by Jeanie Greenidge, AVID Teacher and Coordinator,
O'Banion Middle School, Garland, TX
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world!” -Nelson Mandela
Five years ago, if you had asked me to describe the relationship between the world of O’Banion Middle School’s teachers and the world of our students, I would have used two words: worlds apart.
At the time, our students were scoring in the lowest tier in our state assessments in math and reading. There were virtually no extracurricular activities on our campus. There was no energy in our students’ learning, and even less energy in our teachers’ teaching. There was little collaboration among grade levels or within subject-area teams. Our teachers were struggling. Our students were struggling. We needed to change. We needed an initiative that wo uld bring our two disparate worlds together and unite us for the futures of all of our students.
Solution: We became an AVID school
O’Banion Middle School’s first site team set about our first Summer Institute with passion and vigor and a little fear. Change can be tough on its agents, and we were not talking about a small amount of change either. This was a radical shift - a shift in instruction, a shift in expectations, and an utter transformation of our culture. Our beliefs and values needed to change to better honor the possibilities for our students. O’Banion needed to become a school that celebrated academic success and valued the input of our parents and community. We needed to join forces to honor the abilities our students had, rather than emphasizing what they potentially lacked. AVID was the answer.
At our first AVID staff development, our site team decided that we would not use the “A” word. We worried that giving it a name would exclude some faculty, giving them the opportunity to ignore us and shrug off responsibility. In 2007-2008, instead of “AVID,” we would teach our teachers to show their students how to “do school.” Here was an initiative that we could all rally behind- our students’ futures were at stake. AVID’s mission became our mission, even if we were a little circumspect about it.
Persistence, Passion, and Professionalism
“How do I know that AVID is not just another passing fad?” asked a faculty member during one of our first AVID staff developments. Trends and educational fashions come and go. Over time, even the most devoted educators become cynical as unsustained and unsupported initiatives appear and disappear. Time would be our best testimony for the enduring legacy that AVID would have at O’Banion Middle School. AVID at O’Banion became ubiquitous. AVID is everywhere! Our site team would present at every staff development opportunity. As O’Banion became more AVIDized, we began to look at our students differently. Our school became a place of possibilities rather than impossibilities. We began to regard our students in the light of what they could do rather than what they could not do. Instead of emphasizing their deficiencies, as a staff, we began to celebrate their talents and gifts. This persistence ignited our teaching passion and reacquainted us with our individual modus pedagogii (reason for teaching). When you begin to see things differently, you begin to do things differently.
AVID at O’Banion livened up our professional practice too. With AVID strategies as the stimulus, our campus began to truly live as a Professional Learning Community. More course openings were created for our honors classes. With blocked Algebra I classes inserted into our master schedule, more students had access to rigor. Our department meetings became living protocols about lesson planning with data, and our faculty meetings were transformed into exhibitions of best teaching practices with student work samples and student input. Once other schools and districts came to visit our school, allowing teachers and students to showcase their learning and enthusiasm for learning, the contagious promise of AVID took flight, and even the most skeptical had to appreciate the change. We are proud of our school. All of our students are proud, and our teachers are too.
All in One AVID Family: the O’Banion AVID Family Council
At one of our first AVID family workshops, one of our parents spoke to me through an interpreter saying, “P. is difficult around the house. It is getting hard. He already has more education than I ever had. He thinks that he knows more. He speaks of college. I have nothing to say. I can’t tell him anything. Help me!” This conversation was the impetus for the O’Banion AVID Family Council, a family group that meets once a month at the end of one school day. At the start of each year, our site team gives families a choice of topics ranging from financial aid to cyber safety, and those families choose what they would like to discuss at these monthly meetings. Our site team then arranges guest speakers or presentation materials. These meetings are led by parents. Before AVID, O’Banion staff had not appreciated the way that AVID changes entire families - not just AVID students. Because of AVID, we feel an obligation to nurture and support these families as they negotiate their own AVID journeys.
Road Signs on the AVID Journey at O’Banion
“College is all over the place, Ms. G!” exclaimed an O’Banion AVID alumna on a recent visit to our school. O’Banion Middle School’s halls and doorways have become billboards for local colleges and for our hope and aspirations. Teachers have decorated their doors with their college paraphernalia and written and posted their college stories and pennants on the walls of their classrooms. We have on-campus College Days where both faculty and students wear their college colors and spend some time each period talking about college. Our family council dedicates one of its meetings to College Night, and we invite guests from local community colleges to come and talk about their institutions. Our new culture reflects our new attitude, and our new attitude shows on the doors, in the hallway walls, on ceiling tiles, and on our students’ t-shirts. We have become a place for achievement – a school for promise.
It Sounds Easy
It was not easy. Transforming a negative place into a positve place has been challenging. Sustaining that transition and maintaining the enthusiasm ischallenging. After our first generic “best practice” year, we have gradually unfolded the full-on AVID phenomenon at O’Banion Middle School. Today, O’Banion teachers maintain their own AVID portfolios, showcasing their use of AVID strategies as best practice. “It is just what we do here,” noted our mathematics department head recently. Having AVID at O’Banion has made all of us who walk our halls walk a little taller, and becoming a National Demonstration School has showcased our school as an institution that believes at its essence that all students can learn and can be made college-ready. We are now a place of “can” rather than “cannot.” AVID’s presence and outreach to all our stakeholders has brought our worlds together under a banner of student achievement and college readiness...for everyone.
Jeanie Greenidge has been the AVID elective teacher and site team coordinator at O’Banion Middle School in Garland, Texas since 2007. She has taught middle school for sixteen years. She was a teacher speaker at AVID Summer Institute (Dallas II) in 2008. Most recently, Jeanie served as an AVID staff developer at Dallas I (Middle School Implementation) in June 2012. O’Banion Middle School was designated an AVID National Demonstration School on April 10, 2012.