By Rob Gira, Executive Vice President, AVID Center
I never fail to be impressed by our AVID graduates, and Magaly Solis is no exception. What is exceptional about this 18 year-old from Plano East Senior High School, now a freshman at the University of Texas in Austin, was her fast academic track through the Plano Independent School District. When I met Magaly during lunch at one of our Dallas Summer Institutes, I was impressed with how engaging and confident she was, and how matter-of-fact she was about the ten Advanced Placement tests that she had taken, beginning back in eighth grade.
Both of Magaly’s parents, Jose and Juana, came to the United States as immigrants in the 1980s, after growing up in Mexico. As a result, neither of them graduated from high school or attended college. Nevertheless, they put the notion into Magaly’s head at an early age that getting a good education was incredibly important. Magaly has two younger sisters, Emily and Daisy, and both of them are currently in AVID.
After talking with Magaly, I was even more intrigued with the opportunity of AVID students to take the AP Spanish exam in eighth grade, so I looked into information on the Texas Education Agency website. With further research, I came upon the website for the Texas Middle School Program for AP Spanish. The program began in 2000, as a pilot in seven different sites, and exponentially grew to serve over 1,000 Texas students. To analyze this initiative, data was collected from 2000 to 2006. Program participation grew every single year, starting at 346 students taking the AP Spanish exam in 2000-2001 and culminating with 1,222 students taking the exam in 2005-2006. Over that six-year span, an average of 88.8% of the eighth-grade students taking the exam achieved a score of ‘3’ or better.
Although Magaly was already engaged in her rigorous UT course schedule, she was nice enough to share her time in an interview, detailing just how much of an impact AVID had, and continues to have, in mapping out her incredibly bright future.
When we talked at Summer Institute, you mentioned that you grew up speaking Spanish at home and English at school. Was it difficult speaking one language at home and another outside of it?
Speaking English in school and Spanish at home didn’t create a huge challenge for me because I was able to separate the two, depending upon my environment. There were times when my parents relied on me to bridge the language barrier with others, such as at the doctor’s office or grocery store. It made me feel incredibly grateful and more self-confident to be able to help my parents out with this, and I feel like I was able to help them develop a stronger comfort level with English along the way. I would say that both of them speak English very well now.
Can you take us through your early experiences with AVID?
In a nutshell, I absolutely fit the profile of an AVID student. I’m the first in my immediate family to graduate from high school and the first member of my family to go to college. I didn’t start in AVID until the eighth grade, when I was nominated by one of my teachers. It was at that time when I was put into Honors classes, which both excited and intimidated me. Up to that point, I had never really had the opportunity to test myself. It was incredibly difficult going into Honors courses without any prior experience, but with AVID, I had the support of both my teachers and peers. My graduating class from Armstrong Middle School was actually the inaugural AVID class of our school.
I felt so fortunate to be a part of that inaugural AVID class. Having people to push and support me along the way was a great experience, and I also liked being able to share both the successes and struggles with others along the way. My other classmates and I not only helped initiate AVID at Armstrong, but we were also leaders in taking Honors classes together there. In eighth grade, I took Honors English, math, and science. Math is a difficult subject as is, so never having Honors math prior to eighth grade was a challenge. However, I’m so thankful that I was able to experience that, since I ended up taking calculus my senior year, and that prior Honors math experience was invaluable.
What key academic tools would you say you picked up in AVID from eighth grade through your senior year?
The binders ended up being an organizational lifesaver. It felt awkward having the AVID binder initially, but I came to realize that having everything hole-punched and in one place made things so much more organized for me. Also, in my senior year, we discussed what goes into the interview process, and my AVID teacher walked us through interview etiquette and practice scenarios. This proved to be an extremely beneficial experience, as we worked together in mock interviews to gain a comfort level with the format. As is the norm with the AVID family, we all prepared each other for success with these scenarios. This practice helped me tremendously with both of my scholarship interviews. I had wonderful teachers throughout my AVID experience. Thanks to AVID, all of that support, and my work ethic, I graduated in the top 7% of my graduating class. With Honors classes, I graduated with a 4.1 Grade Point Average.
Did AVID prove to be beneficial during your preparation for AP exams?
It certainly did, which was a tremendous help, since I ended up taking ten AP exams and passing nine of them. In eighth grade, I took AP Spanish and received a score of ‘5.’ I followed that up with human geography in ninth grade, world history in tenth, and English language, U.S. history, and psychology my junior year. My senior year, I passed all four of my exams: English literature, macroeconomics, government, and calculus.
Have you taken any of the skills you acquired from AVID with you to UT Austin?
The biggest impact from AVID for me in college has been the Cornell note system. I’ve seen the person next to me in class trying to write everything down as the professor is saying it and constantly struggling to keep up. One of my AVID teachers really stressed doing 80% listening and 20% writing, so I do my best to listen and take in everything the professor is saying, while writing down the most important pieces of information along the way. When I was a student leader at Summer Institute, we were able to explore this tool and many others in greater depth.
The benefits I gathered from tutorials have also found their way into my college study. I had my first chemistry quiz recently, and I started a study group with about six or seven others prior to the quiz. I ended up working on a whiteboard in the library, demonstrating several problems for others in the study group; it was almost identical to a tutorial session. The other students in the group hadn’t been part of the AVID experience before, so it was really eye-opening for them, and they were thankful for the experience. Just like with tutorials, I was processing the information as I was solving the questions. It was a difficult quiz, but our chemistry professor cut us some slack, knowing that this was our first college chemistry quiz. I’m very happy to report that I scored over 10 points above the class average.
Overall, how would you say AVID helped you as a student and as a person?
AVID allowed me to develop incredibly tight bonds with so many other people, the members of my AVID family. As I went along, there were more opportunities for everyone to get along and participate in community service. Prior to AVID, I never would have thought that a college would place so much emphasis on community service. AVID helped me to prioritize, it helped me to set goals, and it helped me to develop a plan to achieve those goals, with such things as getting involved in community service and extracurricular activities.
As a person, I felt like I grew so much. Speaking in public was something that previously would have terrified me, but AVID gave me the confidence to do just that. It also taught me that having the determination and capacity to accomplish great things is always there, and it’s just a matter of being confident and having the belief that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. AVID really helped me to grow and get over my shyness, and it taught me how to seek my true potential and always strive for my best.
What recommendations would you offer to individuals considering AVID?
The greatest recommendation I can offer is to look at AVID as a long-term investment. From an early age, kids are told that they are expected to go on to college, and it’s important that they realize they have the potential to accomplish just that. I recommend sticking with AVID because it will have a huge impact on the rest of your life. Looking back now, I can’t imagine the possibility of ever having not been a part of AVID. It’s just so important to look at it as a long-term investment, because when senior year comes along, it’s going to be more than worth it.
Are practitioners in the field having similar success with early access to AP testing for their students? We want to hear from you! Post your comments below.