Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

An Examination of a Gender-Separate Advisory Program

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

An Examination of a Gender-Separate Advisory Program

Article excerpt

In this qualitative study, the authors examine the advisory program of a Horizon Schools to Watch middle grades school. Horizon Schools to Watch is the Illinois affiliate of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle School Reform national Schools to Watch (STW) program, meaning schools with the STW designation have made significant inroads in implementing exemplary middle school practice. This advisory program is unique in that girls and boys are separated by gender during the advisory time. Using focus group interviews of the middle grades students and their teaching teams for data gathering purposes, the authors explore issues related to the impact that gender separation has on establishing trust, openness and confidentiality within the advisory program. The findings suggest that gender separation appears to provide benefits in the eyes of the students and teachers, making the advisory program a key component in helping to provide an effective middle school environment.


Advisory programs have a long history of being connected with schools for young adolescents. According to Galassi, Gulludge, and Cox (1998), advisory programs were conceptually present as far back as the 1890s as "it was noted as a feature of junior high schools" (p. 5). As time passed, advisory programs appeared to be connected to the notion of "guidance," which was one of the classic functions of the junior high schools in the 1940s (Gruhn & Douglass, 1947; Vars, 1998). Major documents of the middle school movement have identified advisory programs as one of the distinguishing components of middle school philosophy and practice (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989; Jackson & Davis, 2000; National Middle School Association, 2003). Advisory programs have been defined as classes or meetings that take place on a regular basis, in which the students are placed in groups that are usually smaller (10-15) than most class rosters and where one adult takes on the role of student advocate (Andrews & Stem, 1992; Anfara, 2006; Dale, 1995). Advisory groups are characterized as being safe, open, and trusting places where adolescents can develop relationships with caring adults while learning about themselves and the impact they have on others (Dale, 1995; MacLaury, 1995; Shulkind & Foote, 2009).

Even though most middle school advocates support the establishment of advisory programs, they have historically been regarded as difficult to implement (Putbrese, 1989). Reasons that make institutionalizing advisory programs a challenge center around issues related to teacher attitudes and preparation, structural difficulties such as scheduling and planning time, a lack of administrative support, the difficulty in solidifying curricula, and parental opposition (Wilson, 1998). While these reasons are significant, schools that have done advisory well have found both affective and academic benefits for their students (George & Oldaker, 1985; Putbrese, 1989).

Advisory programs have many names and can be organized in multiple ways, making them appear quite different from school to school. However, the literature reflects a number of consistent goals for advisory programs and the reality does indeed appear to be that they serve a variety of purposes. Galassi et al. (1998) provide a "typology of advisory emphases" (p. 19) that identifies six different needs that advisory can meet:

* Advocacy-designed to meet affective needs with a goal of establishing adult-student relationships;

* Community-also designed to meet affective needs and aid in developing a group identity;

* Skills-designed to meet both affective and cognitive needs with a goal of providing developmental guidance;

* Invigoration-designed to meet affective needs by providing time for students to relax and recharge;

* Academic-designed to address cognitive needs by addressing issues related to academic performance;

* Administrative-designed to address "house-keeping" aspects of schools (Galassi et al. …

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