Homeroom fades away in light of advisory

As the 2009-10 JC school year comes to a close, so does the existence of homeroom.

Homerooms will be replaced by the advisory program. It will give students an adult mentor who will ideally stay with them for the entirety of their high school careers. “This program is above all, for the students,” chair of the advisory program’s committee Danica Zavodny said. “We want it to personalize each student’s experience at John Carroll.”

“The mission statement of the advisory program says that its main goal is to help the students grow spiritually, intellectually, and socially by reinforcing core values at the personal level,” Zavodny said.

The goal of the program is to help strengthen both student-teacher and student-student relationships, promote character development, help students to utilize school resources, provide each student with an adult advocate, monitor students’ academic progress, and foster communication between home and school.

“This way, each advisor, either a faculty member or administrator, will have about ten students each, so it’s a smaller group. This way, they get to know you on a personal level,” she said.  “Students will be [selected] from each grade, as randomly as possible, but with the smaller size of the incoming freshman class and the much larger size of the rising seniors, that could be difficult.”

Students will meet daily with their advisors and the other members of their advisor groups. In order to accommodate every student, all members of both faculty and staff will have a group, and all rooms will be used, “because right now not all classrooms are being used, not every teacher has a homeroom. We will make sure that every classroom is used, and if need be, we may use the cafeteria and gym,” Zavodny said.

Twice a month the groups will meet for a half an hour. “We will incorporate a special bell so that this will work, and all classes will be shortened that day,” Zavodny said. The groups will cover “something different every week.”  At the beginning of the year, for example, the students will discuss the summer reading book.  According to Zavodny, the small group setting is ideal for covering the novel.

During the 30 minute sessions, the groups might also discuss service projects ideas, the honor code, or current events.  Zavodny added that activities such as ultimate Frisbee competitions against other advisory groups are in consideration.

Zavodny started the program as her final project while working toward her master’s degree. “I approached the administration and asked what they needed to be done, and they showed a lot of interest in an advisory program, so I made it happen,” Zavodny said.

The advisory committee is made up of faculty members from each department: science teacher Lyle Brennen, English teacher Celeste Smith, math teacher Susan Gradishar, social studies teacher Dr. Paul Lazor, religion teacher Dr. Joseph Gallen, and Director of Alumni Relations Sue Greig.

All of the members of the committee have different opinions about the program. “All of the members of the committee worked together,” Brennen said.  “The most challenging issues in this is to gain faculty and student support for the program, to determine the splitting up of the students, and to determine the ‘nuts and bolts’ issues present, such as how to take attendance, where the many groups can meet, etc.”

Lazor is enthusiastic about the idea of advisory groups.  “If it is done correctly, it should make students at John Carroll’s experiences more proactive. There are a lot of people that fall through the cracks and now they would have a relationship with someone to encourage them,” Lazor said.

Zavodny’s fellow committee members all share her enthusiasm for the program and even admire her drive. Lazor said, “[Zavodny] was the driving force. She’s the best committee leader, and very proactive.”

One of the biggest concerns that students have is the loss of homeroom. “The idea wasn’t to punish students by getting rid of homeroom, but rather we needed a place for advisory, and homeroom seemed to be the best place for it,” Zavodny said.

Special homerooms, like chorus, have to make changes to adapt to the changing schedule. Music teacher Mark Bolden said, “We are starting chorus at 7:25 in the morning so that we still have the full 30 minutes to practice.”

The mod schedule for next year will also change. Students will arrive at school at 8:00 and report to their first class. After their first classes, students will meet with their advisors for about ten minutes and then go right into their mod 4 classes.

Despite efforts from the faculty to promote this program, the reviews from students are still mixed. “I think it will be a good program if we get a teacher whom we like,” junior Kelly Vaughn said.  “If we get a teacher whom we don’t like, it could be a problem. I do like, however, how the members are from different grades.”

Other students aren’t very informed about the program. “I’m okay with it, I guess, I just really don’t know much about it,” freshman Nathan Barringer said.

The program was made known to the incoming freshman class during its admissions process. “The advisory program has absolutely been very positively received by potential families,” Director of Admissions Kim Brueggeman said.

The administration is positive about the new program. Vice Principal of Academics Gary Scholl is “very excited about it.”

“I think that it will bring many benefits to our students and develop a real mechanism for developing connectedness to the school. It will serve as a great way to monitor academic progress and it will open better communication between home and school,” Scholl said.

“I feel like it will bring a level of personal contact with an adult mentor to the students,” Dean of Students Thomas Vierheller said.  “Teachers, since we shortened homeroom, have not gotten the personal connection with their students. Most private schools used similar programs as it is a way to connect students to the teachers. It is very college-prep like in that when you go to college you have an advisor, and not just an academic advisor, but someone to help you with career decisions. It is a way to not necessarily give you the answer, but the resources that you need to find the answers.”

Principal Paul Barker echoes Vierheller’s sentiments about the college preparatory factor in this decision.  “I mingle with a lot of folks that have advisory systems through my coursework at Penn and they’re like ‘You don’t have that?’” he said.  “It’s pretty established in independent schools, but not so much in Catholic schools.”

Teachers like English teacher Christine Zurkowski are eager, but apprehensive about the program.  “After we get through the bumps of scheduling meeting times it can have the ability to form strong bonds between students of mixed grade levels, which could lead to students becoming more successful both academically and socially,” Zurkowski said.

“It could also help to have teachers as a student’s advisor whom they never would have had as an actual teacher. It can benefit the quieter students who may want an adult or teacher as a mentor, but may be too afraid to approach them,” Zurkowski said.

Barker, who will have his own advisory group, is looking forward to the program and the change it could have on the school.  “Schools today need to be about understanding the individual needs of students and help people make connections,” he said.  “I’m sure they’ll be some bumps in the road, but they’ll be worth it.”

Additional reporting by Kirby Browning and Jenny Hottle.

Kate Froehlich can be reached for comment at [email protected]