Valley New High School No. 1, located next to the CSUN University Park Apartments, has started offering advisory classes this year in an effort to help prevent high dropout rates among high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
According to a Harvard University study released in March, more than half of LAUSD students fail to finish high school in four years. This number includes dropouts.
Only 60 percent of Latinos, who comprise 75 percent of LAUSD students, graduate high school in four years, the study said. Only 53 percent of African American students in the LAUSD graduate in four years, according to the study.
At Valley New High School, 48 percent of students are Latino, and 9 percent are African American, according to information from the LAUSD.
Most students drop out between the ninth and 10th grade, said Valley New High School counselor Sharon Bernard.
By making connections with the students, the school hopes to increase student achievement levels, said Connie Semf, Valley New High School principal. The more support and encouragement students feel they have, the more they will be able to achieve, Semf said.
The advisory classes, which are supposed to help students build character and encourage more personal teacher-student relationships, are required for all students at the school, which currently serves the ninth and 10th grades. The school plans to offer the classes to 11th and 12th graders once the school expands.
Every day, students attend a class similar to homeroom, except that in the class, they receive extensive advisement from their teachers about their academic performance and issues important to them, which may be as big as sexual harassment, or as minor as why school bathrooms are locked at inopportune times, said Susan Eller, English teacher.
“We’re the secondary counselor(s),” said dance teacher Pamela Doman. “I like the idea of bonding outside of a classroom setting. (This class provides) a missing piece I didn’t have at my other school.”
She formerly taught at University High School. The students there did very well, and ended up going to Ivy League schools, she said.
“(But) helping them was tougher,” she said. “There was no special connection with them.”
The classes provide a bonding opportunity that is personal, and help direct students toward achieving success by assisting them with the necessary steps to get into college, Doman said.
Several teachers on the administrative committee met last summer to discuss what advisory services they wanted to provide for students, what the teachers’ roles would be, and what feedback they expected from students, said Rene Shufelt, art and life skills teacher.
“I think it’s about building community, and teaching (students) to build character so that (the teacher-student) relationship is really about how we, as a group, (can) be dynamic together and achieve,” Shufelt said. “(The classes are) designed to really nurture and support not only academics, but just getting them socially ready to be in high school and prepared for success.”
Title I funds are being used to pay for the special classes. The funds are used for after-school tutors, materials for the classes and teacher assistance.
Students write in journals that are read by their teachers, which allows the students to better correspond with their teachers and get responses from them.
Hussein Elliott, 15-year-old sophomore, said he thought the class would be pointless, but found it is a helpful forum for students to voice their opinions.
“(It allows us to) let out what (we’re) feeling without having to be embarrassed,” said Elliott’s twin brother, Hassan Elliott. “I think the advisory (class) actually leads us to not only strengthen our academic progression, but also our social progression and our life skills.”
The relationship with a teacher is an aspect of learning that is important, for a student Cantwell said. The relationship with a teacher determines the student’s success, she said, as well as “their attitude(s) toward school, and sometimes, toward themselves.”
“(We want the students to become) accountable and responsible for their academic career(s),” Bernard said.