Frick United School of Language was born out of a merger and design process between two middle schools in the Oakland Unified School District - Frick Impact Academy and Oakland School of Language (SOL). The new school weaves together the best elements of both schools to provide a rigorous learning environment for middle school students in East Oakland with a focus on bilingualism, biliteracy, and social justice.
Frick serves 316 students in grades 6 to 8. 95.9% of Frick’s students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 32.9% are African American, 59.5% are Latinx, 46.8% are English Learners, 19.6% are students with disabilities, and 11.4% are unsheltered.
All students at Frick have the opportunity to study a second language. No matter the English and/or Spanish proficiency of Frick students, the school offers an early start to bilingualism and biliteracy so that students can prepare to graduate from high school with the State Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish.
Creating the Advisory Program
An essential component of Frick United Academy of Language is the focus on ensuring a nurturing environment guided by restorative justice practices and service learning. A core element of this culture is the Advisory Program, which focuses on learning and practicing social-emotional skills, developing a sense of self identity and cultural belonging, growing the ability and openness to interact across cultures, and recognizing and disrupting racial oppression.
The advisory program was developed through Frick United Academy of Language’s design process and draws on strengths and experiences from both of the previous middle schools.
Oakland SOL’s advisory program was developed in 2016-17 by a design team made up of families, students, educators, and a community organizer. Parent leader Lamont Snaer led the work group focused on creating the advisory.
The design team held a vision for a school with a learning environment that supported the whole child. They held a deep belief that academic success rests on a foundational culture of belonging and inclusion. The vision was to support students to become community leaders who build friendships, celebrate differences, and recognize and disrupt systems of racial oppression. The team also had a commitment to creating equity of voice, and ensuring that everyone had opportunities to take turns being learners and experts. They valued and supported a school culture that encouraged those who are often silent to make their voices heard.
In 2019, when the two middle schools began the process of coming together, they formed a combined Frick-SOL design team that included a school culture sub-committee. Members of the Frick-SOL culture sub-committee began to work together to bring the heart of each school’s advisory program together.
Frick educators valued advisory, but also voiced concerns about how to balance it with their core teaching responsibilities, based on prior experiences of not receiving adequate support to develop curriculum and facilitate the advisory space with young people.
In order to respond to these concerns, members of the culture team created an advisory curriculum that was responsive to the needs of students and educators. At Frick, advisory classes take place four days a week for 35 minutes. The school leadership team collaborates to provide every teacher with additional support and capacity building in two key ways: 1) They integrate time on the professional development calendar for additional training and peer exchanges focused on advisory; and 2) They offer one-on-one classroom-based support and coaching for teachers during their advisory classes.
What Does Advisory Look Like?
The Advisory Program is part of the larger Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) strategy that all staff practice.
During advisory, staff facilitate Community Building Circles (Restorative Circles) as a practice for students to be heard. It’s a space where students who are coming with different kinds of educational experiences can bring their wonderings to a trusted adult and have disagreements in healthy ways; a space where students who are introverted can practice stepping up and sharing their voice; and a space where diverse voices and identities can emerge to build real community.
Advisory is also a space where students can practice multi-racial democracy. At Frick United, the Leadership Class often brings school-wide decisions for a vote in the advisory classes. For example, for school-wide celebrations, the Leadership Class sends out a list of recommended themes and students have an opportunity to discuss and vote on them in every advisory class. This allows more diversity of voice in school-wide decisions and reinforces the value that every student’s voice matters.
Multi-Racial Solidarity Building
At Frick United Academy of Language, advisory also creates space for students and educators to celebrate the diversity of its community and each other’s cultures, finding ways to build cultural pride and cultural humility. Each month, on Friday Community Building Days, students are taught a curriculum that exposes them to different racial/ethnic identities and cultures (e.g. Arab American Heritage Month). The curriculum is often interactive (i.e. videos) and solicits deep discussions. This integration of ethnic studies allows students to build understanding, connections and relationships across race, ethnicity, culture, and language. Most importantly, this builds a sense of safety through creating a real community where everyone belongs.
Advisory Lessons Learned
Over the last few years, Frick United Academy of Language has gathered these best practices in order for advisory to have a real impact:
- Advisory is not a magic pill that transforms school culture by itself. Advisory needs to be embedded in a comprehensive school-wide approach to creating restorative school culture that includes creating deep authentic relationships and supportive systems and structures, like MTSS.
- Implement the advisory structure school-wide. In order for every student to have access to advisory, every educator needs to commit to engaging in the practice. If it’s not done school-wide, inequities develop - where some students have great experiences and feel supported while others don’t.
- Create structures of support for educators. Hold trainings at the beginning of each school year, allocate professional development and reflection time throughout the year, and provide one-to-one coaching and peer support structures on how to hold advisory.
- Learning happens through trying and failing… and trying again. This kind of practice is new for many of us as adults. Creating a culture of support for educators to be learners is essential. If you’re not doing that, you’re just spinning your wheels.
Have fun, play games - don’t just do talking circles. Students get really invested in games. They provide a space to connect and have fun. Talking circles alone can become boring. Balancing what is light with what’s heavier provides opportunities to build deeper connections and creates a space for more vulnerability.
Frick Advisory Schedule
Mondays: Restorative Justice (RJ) Circle
Tuesday: Literacy (Independent or Shared Reading)
Wednesday: No Advisory
Thursday: Study Hall and Language Lab
Friday: Community Building Day
Frick is currently building its capacity to use the Sown to Grow curriculum being implemented across Oakland Unified School District. Frick plans to expand its use school-wide in fall 2023.
Sown To Grow is a student goal setting and reflection platform that helps students figure out which strategies work best for them. Students set goals, track progress, and reflect on strategies, while teachers guide learning, monitor growth, and provide feedback.