At the heart of Lawrence Academy’s student support structure is the advisor system. For each student, an advisor is often the faculty member who best knows and understands his or her life at the school. Faculty members and most administrators, including the head of school, each advise between five and seven students. For many students, an advisor becomes a trusted friend, a guide through the challenges of daily life, and a motivator who applauds successes while pushing them to meet their full potential. For others, that relationship develops with a dorm parent, coach, or classroom teacher. It is no surprise that students, who are in daily contact with their advisors, learn to trust and depend on them.
Formally, advisors monitor students’ welfare and academic progress, serve as the chief channel of communication between school and family, approve course selections and travel plans, and, if needed, take an active role in disciplinary matters as the student’s advocate.
Each student’s weekday morning begins with advisor contact, either in a 20-minute small-group meeting on Monday, Wednesday, or Thursday, or sitting with and touching base at the all-school assemblies held on Tuesday and Friday. Most weeks, advisors receive academic reports called comment cards from classroom teachers to be reviewed with their advisees.
The Comment Card
At Lawrence, students receive written progress reports almost weekly from each of their teachers. Advisors review and distribute the comment cards on most Wednesday mornings at advisee meetings. The comment card provides constructive criticism, advice, and specific pointers on how to improve academic performance. It also gives advisors insight into patterns or changes in a student’s attitude or behavior that could be the first sign of a problem. It is commonplace to have a written comment from a teacher spark a one-on-one session between advisor and advisee, a faculty room conversation with the teacher in question, or a phone call home to the student’s parents. Frequently, these interventions are enough to nip a potential problem in the bud or clear up misunderstandings. The comment card also provides encouragement and reinforcement for the student who is excelling or putting forth tremendous effort. "The weekly comment cards help a lot," says one student from Gary, Indiana. "Teachers evaluate your effort as well as your classwork, and that’s feedback. At a school like this, that’s what you need."
Matching Students With Advisors
Since the student-teacher partnership is such a crucial part of life at Lawrence, the school matches advisors with students carefully. Returning students choose their own advisors based on common interests, experiences, and personal comfort. New students are matched with advisors on the basis of what has been learned through the admissions process.