Each grade is divided into adviser groups, usually made up of six to eight students who share an adviser. The adviser system provides each student in the School with an adult, drawn from the faculty, who is professionally responsible for and available to that student.
It is also vital that the mission and understanding of the adviser extend to the parents of advisees. Parents of our students are encouraged to call the adviser with any questions, simply because the adviser is in the best position to answer the questions or to refer the parent to another person when appropriate. If a parent has a question about a particular class, for example, it is standard practice to urge the parent to talk to the teacher directly. In general, the adviser will want to alert the teacher of the course involved and stay involved in the discussions. Sometimes an advisee will have difficulties of one kind or another that give the parent and adviser reason to speak frequently. Such conversations are very important — for the parent, the adviser, and the advisee. The adviser is responsible for keeping the relationship with the parent(s) on a professional foundation, maintaining focus on the advisee, being sure to inform the advisee about conversations, and encouraging the parent to do likewise. Adolescent children must know, on the one hand, that the adults in their lives are concerned about them, but they must also know that their adviser considers them old enough to be included in the responses to their difficulties and to participate in any decisions that need to be made. It is the adviser who is likely to be instrumental in furthering the advisee's capacity to take responsibility, handle difficulties, overcome them, and learn to become independent. Sometimes parents need coaching and encouragement to allow their offspring the freedom to grow.
The adviser acts in the advisee's interest in a general, practical way. This means that the adviser is a reliable source for any colleague who has questions or information to convey. That is, the adviser is the person who knows the full range of each advisee's involvement at school: the academic load and schedule; sports, activities, social interactions. The adviser also knows about each advisee's special interests, abilities, circumstances, problems, responsibilities, and pursuits outside of school. The adviser acts in the advisee's interest in a general academic way. This means that the adviser keeps track of each advisee's study habits, helping students make the best use of time and to do their best work.
Finally, the adviser acts in the advisee's interest in a particular way if a situation arises. The adviser will know about an advisee's whereabouts, absence from school, or performance in class, for instance. It may be a simple, practical situation, like a schedule change, or the guidance given advisees each February to make course choices for the following year. That annual task, moreover, challenges advisers to understand the curriculum, to be aware of the sequences in each subject, to know the requirements for promotion and graduation, and to have a sense of where opportunities for choice and flexibility lie. Of course, the Dean of Academics, all Department Heads, the School's Scheduler, and Head Advisers stand ready to meet with advisers so that they are equipped with the understanding and knowledge needed to be effective advisers, but it is up to the adviser to translate all that into clear-headed advice and to help the student deal sensibly, frankly, and honestly with problems and with people.
To some extent, the word adviser is misleading, seeming to suggest that the central function is to “give advice.” And advisers do do that, responding to nuts-and-bolts, how-to questions almost daily, offering practical advice in the form of workable strategies. But, while useful, that kind of communication is not the most valuable service provided. Rather, listening comes first. Only then can advisers locate and respond to the adolescent— and sometimes familial— conflicts and fears that often underlie the more obvious academic problems. Advisees need an adviser who can help them deal with fears, anxieties, and conflicts simply by listening to them sympathetically, offering a mature perspective. Students are growing people; they are in the process of becoming adults. Therefore, it is incumbent on and reassuring to advisers to remember that they need not handle advisees' problems by telling students what to do — by literally giving advice; by providing quick answers to all questions and solutions to end all problems. In order to succeed in the process of becoming adults, advisees need to engage in the process of figuring out their own motivations, strengths, weaknesses, solutions, and goals. The eyes, ears, heart, intelligence, and good judgment of an adviser provide exactly the guidance young people need in order to become confidently self-reliant. In short, the adviser offers counsel as well as advice.
The adviser is available as a person the advisee can speak with frankly and confidentially, a person the advisee can trust in a close, personal way. Close relationships are not a requirement of the adviser system, nor do all students want or need them, but trust is. Given trust and time, adviser and advisee will find common ground and form a good relationship. Every relationship with every advisee will have its own degree of closeness, depth, and feeling, its own individual, defining quality. It is the responsibility of the adviser to keep each relationship on a professional foundation, remembering, on the one hand, that the advisee is a child entrusted to the maturity of the adviser, and, on the other hand, that the advisee who confides in the adviser is trusting an adult who can be counted on to be effective, respectful, caring, and discreet.
Each adviser meets with the adviser group, normally twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. At those meetings, the "nuts and bolts" matters receive attention. For instance, a Class Council representative is elected; the representative solicits ideas for class projects or reports on suggestions made at Council meetings; special events are announced; advisees fill out sports choices and assorted questionnaires. Advisees should feel that they can also set the agenda for these meetings, which also provide a forum for discussion of any issue or problem that concerns someone in the group. These meetings are often devoted to pleasant conversation.
An advisee's occasional absence of one or two days requires no special action on the adviser's part. But an absence of three days or more or a pattern of absences involves some planning for ways to make up missed work. After three days, the adviser should call the advisee or the parents to see what is happening. The adviser coordinates the collection of assignment sheets from teachers and books from the advisee's locker so that another student can deliver them or a parent can pick them up, usually at the Baldwin Hall or Thompson Hall front desk, or from the Head Adviser’s office.
Prolonged absence requires extensive planning with advisee, teachers, and parents, so that the advisee has the materials at home to do all he or she can under the circumstances. If a child is sick, students and parents can become very anxious about missing school. The adviser can be especially helpful here, allaying the anxiety by reassuring the advisee and parents that teachers will be understanding, patient, and accommodating.
Occasionally, an advisee will run into difficulties or present a problem the solution to which will require the adviser to confer with other members of the faculty or with professional people outside the school, always and crucially with the advisee’s knowledge.
If a student has academic difficulty that persists, the adviser should urge the advisee to speak to the teacher involved, perhaps with the adviser doing some mediation or preparation. If the situation is serious, the adviser will notify the parents. Solutions to academic problems should almost always begin with the advisee going to the teacher for regular sessions of extra help. If that strategy proves insufficient, a tutor may be needed. See Support Services. If the problem is largely procrastination on the advisee's part (rather than poor understanding or extremely slow performance), the adviser may initiate some counseling discussions, whose object is to help the student discover why he or she puts off work. The adviser, along with the teachers involved, might recommend study halls and/or Saturday Hours to provide additional structured study time. If, despite an advisee's best efforts and signs of promise, performance continues to be weak, the adviser may suggest consultation with the school psychologist.
Like learning difficulties, emotional difficulties may at first seem to be academic difficulties to people working in a school. When a student's level of performance drops, it is natural to assume the problem is academic, and usually that is exactly the case. An adviser keeps track of advisees and gets to know them well. Emotional changes sufficiently pronounced to affect academic performance may be readily apparent. If so, an adviser can take action first by talking to the advisee. If the advisee confides private matters, barring anything of a life-threatening or criminal sort, the adviser must respect the confidence. If it seems that the advisee needs professional psychological help, the adviser, with the full knowledge of the advisee, should contact the parents to make that suggestion. Short-term counseling is available at Hopkins, and the New Haven area is well supplied with psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers who specialize in the treatment of adolescents. Head Advisers, the School's psychologist, and experienced advisers can help with referrals.
Students at Hopkins respect each other and the adult members of the community, who can informally and directly remind students, if necessary, about standards of civility, honesty, and courtesy. Occasionally, a student does commit a more serious infraction. The consequence of an infraction may be a serious talk with the Head Adviser or a disciplinary hearing. It is the adviser who helps the advisee in the long term by having those conversations from which a young person learns how to handle feelings, how to respect rules, how to judge the effects of his or her actions on other people, and thus to be a positive presence in a community.