By Donna Rankin
AVID Coordinator, Farb Middle School
Whenever anyone asks how we at Farb Middle School became an AVID National Demonstration School, how we were able to grow from a school with a single AVID elective class to a culture in which we believe AVID is who we are, I love to tell the story of how at all began.
Several years ago at a friend’s party, I was sharing the dilemma my school was experiencing with a few newly introduced friends from AVID Center. At Farb, we were trying to find the perfect program to begin schoolwide, the program that would change our culture and would help our students achieve and succeed. We had been meeting with parents and staff members for over six months to choose and develop such a program, and we felt no closer to an answer than when we had begun. Julie Elliott, an AVID National Demonstration School Director at AVID Center, said simply, “Why not try schoolwide AVID?”
I thought to myself, “Of course! Everyone recognizes AVID’s strengths, and they know the success rate! And schoolwide? Our entire staff would be on board! Simple, right?”
It was when I went back to school the next day and presented the idea to a few staff members and administrators that I realized that this would be no simple undertaking. Even though everyone agreed that AVID would be the perfect fit for so many of our students and that both our students and teachers could benefit from a focus that would move us forward, changing a school culture would require a great deal more than an agreement in principle.
This process of change at our school began with a commitment from all of the stakeholders to put AVID in our school, not just the AVID elective, but an AVID system that would affect all our learning environments and benefit all our students. With that commitment came a collective desire and energy to create a new AVID culture. So, our journey began.
The Plan and the Implementation
We began with a “soft launch” led by a team of the four teachers who attended AVID Summer Institute. We were the new Site Team, the resident experts, the cheerleaders, and the professional developers who coached the staff in using a weekly binder check and Cornell notes in all classes.
When we officially adopted our schoolwide AVID plan the following year, we felt we were opening a new school! All of our teachers were AVID-trained, either at Summer Institute or in a two-day Path training. Our students chose a new mascot and new school colors. We held a Back-to-School Barbecue to introduce our new AVID program, and 800 students and parents attended. We developed a year-long professional development plan that would help teachers build expertise in using AVID strategies. Our new master schedule included four new AVID elective classes and a schoolwide Advisory program focused on organization, character education, and college awareness. Our AVID Site Team grew and, though countless hours of problem solving, built and rebuilt the policies that would become the foundation of our AVID system at Farb. We all came together to create our own path, and we were energized and hopeful!
The journey was not without a few bumps, of course. Each year, we analyzed our work and discovered ways to strengthen our plans. Examining student data helped us reflect and rebuild. Visiting other schools, such as Doig Intermediate School in Garden Grove, CA, motivated us to look at our own policies and make the changes that would strengthen our total AVID picture. Our plan to bring AVID to our entire school became a work in progress that we continue today.
How did we come so far? How did we move from a school where math teachers wondered how AVID strategies could ever fit in a math class to a place where algebra students use Socratic seminars regularly to grapple with rigorous concepts? Where sixth graders uncover the theme in a Bob Marley song and connect it to the real world? Where students analyze their grades and set goals that include college? How did we become a culture of college readiness?
In December, Farb Middle School and Doig Intermediate School will share a few more of the strengths in our schoolwide AVID systems at the AVID National Conference in San Diego. We will share how four programs ---parent involvement, schoolwide supports, professional development, and an Advisory program --- contributed to our success as National Demonstration Sites.
So, if you see me there, I hope you will ask me more about our journey. I love to tell the story.
Donna Rankin is the AVID Coordinator at Farb Middle School, an AVID National Demonstration School in San Diego, California. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in English Education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her Master’s Degree from National University in San Diego. Donna has taught English, Reading, Social Studies, and AVID in the San Diego Unified School District for 27 years, and she continues to learn and to love teaching.