Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 17 Number 3
May 1978

ADVISOR TEAMING

Wayne Winterton

IN RESIDENTIAL schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), counseling programs have typically been most closely aligned to the dormitory or home-living functions of the school. Such was the situation at the Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) prior to the initiation of an expanded counseling effort early in 1977. The effort, termed "advisor teaming," was largely adapted from the advisor-advisee concept of /I/D/E/A/s individually guided education program (see Note 1).

Although operational only since the second semester of the 1976-77 school year, the program deserves attention because of (1) the surprisingly minimal degree of resistance encountered in staff acceptance of the concept and (2) the observable positive effects advisor teaming had on students and staff at the conclusion of the first semester of implementation.

The program, with some minor organizational modifications including a relabeling from "advisor teaming to family groups," is being continued through 1977-78 by the schoolís new administration. AIS is now under the administration of the All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC).

Brief Background

The Students. Established in 1881 by the Presbyterian Church and turned over to the federal government five years later, the school is one of the oldest residential facilities for Indians in the nation. Serving students in grades 7-12, the 1976-77 enrollment of 400 included students from 27 tribal groups and a half-dozen states. The majority of the students, however, are from the various Pueblo groups in New Mexico. Approximately 80% of the 1976-77 student body were admitted to the school on the basis of educational or social needs as certified by a social worker. The 1976-77 drop-out rate was computed at 24%.

AIS is considered an open-campus school. Students are free to leave campus and go into the community and city after school hours and before bed check if they so desire. The geographical location of the school permits students relatively easy access, however illegal, to alcoholic beverages. Student users typically prefer alcoholic beverages, primarily beer, to other forms of intoxicants or narcotics.

The Contract. Early in 1976 and based on research from their own feasibility studies, the AIPC decided to contract for the operation of AIS under authority of Public Law 93-638. PL 93-638, more commonly known as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975, is a vehicle whereby Indian tribal groups may contract to provide services previously performed by the federal government. The time table for AIPCís assumption of control of AIS called for a one-year planning contract. The planning contract was effected just prior to the 1976-77 school yearóthus changing the tempo of the school year from one of a typical nature to one of a transitional nature.

In anticipation of the impending transfer of control, even though consumation was still a year into the future, a substantial number of staff resigned at the conclusion of the 1975-76 school year. Those vacancies, as well as the trickle of vacancies that occurred during the 1976-77 school year, were filled by temporary hires. Although this had the effect of reducing the number of permanent employees the federal government would be obligated to place in reduction-in-force (RIF) status prior to the conclusion of the 1976-77 school year, it increased the demand for staff training and made more difficult the ability of the school to provide program continuity.

As might be anticipated, the 1976-77 staff was apprehensive, proud of the past, less than pleased with the present, and unsure of the future. A number of staff members had career investments of more than 20 years at the school. Dr. Roger Martig, the schoolís staff psychologist, aptly described the atmosphere at the school in a case study prepared jointly for the BIA and the AIPC (see Reference 2). "The morale hits peaks and valleys. When the morale of the staff gets low, itís because people are thinking of the future and of losing their jobs." In putting the overall transition into perspective, Dr. Martig drew the analogy, "Itís like the AIPC is going through a process of being born while the present staff is going through the process of preparing to die." Change was rapidly becoming a reality at the aging institution.

Morale Concerns and a Plan

During the early part of the school year, the manifest changes meant little to the students, but to the school staff each step in the transition process served only as another reminder of the inevitableness of the changeover. It became increasingly evident to the administrator and department heads that unless some vehicle could be provided to productively channel the energies of the staff, that the more immediate, poignant concern of job security could override the schoolís pressing educational and social demands.

In a supervisory staff meeting, the developing morale problem was discussed. The supervisory staff agreed on the desirability of an interdepartmental project and arrived at some general need statements. They were:

1. The developing morale problem was school-wide. Whatever vehicle was to be utilized had to be capable of reaching all staff members.

2. The activity must be of such a nature that it would not be perceived as "busy work" but as something productive and beneficial.

3. There must be opportunity for full staff-input and participation in the developmental phase. The project must be identifiable as a staff designed and sponsored activity.

Relying heavily on the expertise of various staff members as well as borrowing liberally from the advisor-advisee program of /I/D/E/A/ís individually guided education program, two prototypic versions were drafted. The unique feature of each prototype was the integrated involvement of home-living, recreation, academic, and counseling staffs. To our knowledge this was the first attempt to modify /I/D/E/A/ís advisor-advisee program to fit the needs of a residential school.

We next conducted what were termed "input sessions" with staff members. Two input sessions were required in order to accommodate the complex staff scheduling inherent in residential schools. At each input session representations of the two prototypes were presented to the staff. Through this group decision making process a single format began to emerge.

In order to provide some clear guidelines for the advisors, a five-part role definition was developed and agreed upon. Each advisor:

A. Will attempt to form a significant relationship with each of his or her advisees through consistent individual and group contact.

B. Will function as a surrogate parent in a manner he or she best knows how.

C. Will act as a counselor to the advisees to whom he or she is responsible.

D. Will serve as an academic tutor when an advisee requests academic assistance.

E. Will meet periodically with the assigned school counselor regarding his or her advisees.

After a few remaining scheduling wrinkles were ironed out the stage was set for initiating the project.

The Advisor Teams

The obvious goals of the advisor team project were simple and related directly to observable needs.

Goal #1--To provide each student with one or two advisors to whom he or she can relate.

RationaleóMany of the students enrolled at AIS have experienced only limited success in dealing with adults in the past. Outside of the home, adult relationships have often been confined to negative experiences with the police, school authorities or tribal leaders.

Anticipated End ResultóThe advisor teams would help to remedy this through the establishment of non-authoritarian type relationships between adults and students. Advisor team group meetings would be heavily oriented toward human development skills, values clarification, and goal definition.

Goal #2--To provide an improved means of interdepartmental communications at the school.

RationaleóOne of the thorniest problems in the administration of a residential school is that of maintaining open communications between academic and home-living staffs. The problem is primarily one of scheduling. Home-living departments must run three eight-hour shifts in order to provide 24-hour student care coverage. This is compounded by the situation that at times when academic people are available for staff meetings, home-living personnel have responsibilities with the students and vice-versa.

Anticipated End ResultóThe advisor teams would help to offset the problem as each team would be composed of both an academic staff member and a home-living staff member. This, it was felt, would greatly enhance dialogue between members of the two major departments.

Goal #3--To expand the existing counseling capabilities of the school.

RationaleóEach counselorís active case load stabilized at about 85 students shortly after the beginning of the school year. This represented nearly twice our recommended ratio for the school clientele.

Anticipated End ResultóThe advisor teams would serve as a logical extension of the schoolís counseling functions. Each counselorís caseload of 85 students was divided into six subgroups. Each subgroup, i.e., advisor team, had approximately 12-15 advisees. There were four counselors and 24 advisor-teams on campus.

The leadership component of the advisor teams was formed by teaming academic and home-living staff members together under the coordinating influence of a regular school counselor.

Creating a Responsive Environment

What needed to be done next, if some impact from the program were to be realized, was to create an environment of responsivenessóresponsiveness of the administration to staff needs and responsiveness of the program to student needs.

Staff needs generally revolved around training and resources. The regular school counselors became responsible for the major portion of staff training with the assistance of the school psychologist. Ideas and activities related to rapport building, values clarification, goal setting, and counseling techniques were shared and practiced. Limited financial support in the amount of $30 per team was provided to pay for an activity or to seed a team project. One team invested their $30 in "Indian bread" ingredients and turned a profit of more than $150 in just a few weeks. Another team earned money by selling bumper stickers and pennants emblazoned with the school logo, while still another raised money hawking popcorn and soft drinks during baseball games. As relatively autonomous groups, advisor teams took on their own personalities reflective of individual leadership and advisee interests. With money either earned or provided advisor teams saw movies, went roller skating, camped overnight, and enjoyed numerous other activities. Two staff members, both of whom retired at the conclusion of the school year, saw their first rock concert and won a new respect from their students. By the close of the school year most of the teams were experiencing a good mix of meaningful counseling and team activities.

Looking Back

At the close of the school year staff members were invited to respond to a feedback form regarding the advisor team project. Although it was very difficult to realistically assess such a program after such a short operational period we did receive many interesting comments. One of the problem areas as identified by a number of the respondents was expressed by Chris Becker, resource room teacher, who stated, "Pairing up adults from dormitory and teaching staffs was difficult as dormitory hours are different and it was difficult to make contact and then carry out a Plan." The other major complaint about the program had to do with the late start. A large number of respondents felt they were really only getting started when the school year came to a close.

One of the items on the feedback questionnaire asked, "If you were going to be at AIS next year, would you want the program continued?" In every case the response was either "Yes" or "Yes, with the following modifications." Modifications mentioned included requests for heavier funding, better access or improved scheduling for use of the schoolís recreational facilities, and a change in advisor team group meetings from a weekly schedule to twice per month.

Many respondents praised the program citing examples of improved student behavior as indicators of success. Arnold Wanya, a dormitory aide, stated, "I felt that students have learned that working together produces results." He went on to say that the "behavior in the dormitory has improved greatly" since the inception of the program. Sue Parton, physical education teacher, stated that at least some of "the loners of the school learned to work and play with other students as a result of the advisor teams." William Fragua, recreation specialist, summed up the thoughts of many when he wrote, ĎMe advisor team program should be continued because it is badly needed. We cannot expect the students to change overnight. A lot of work needs to be done in motivating the students. . . . It should have started at the very beginning of the school year."

Conclusion

The responsibility for improving educational services for any group of students does not rest with one person. It requires a team effort. I am firmly convinced that the team effort required of the advisor project contributed greatly to the success of the Albuquerque Indian School educational program during a most difficult 1976-77 school year. Beyond that, the concept of advisor teaming holds much promise for other residential schools.

References

1. /I/D/E/A/ is the service mark for the Institute for the Development of Educational Activities, an education affiliate of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation.

2 Mr. Les Loomis, a graduate student at Harvard University, was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to document the transition process at the school.

 
 
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