By Lisa Crangle, AVID Coordinator, Legacy Middle School, Orlando, Florida
Changing the culture of a school is energizing, exhausting, and somewhat tricky, all at the same time. It can be like embarking on a noble crusade. Who would be crazy enough to go about changing a school culture a second or even a third time, knowing how arduous it is to choreograph this dance on a new dance floor even once? We would! My colleagues and I are champions for AVID.
The school that we built a college ready culture in was formerly fraught with challenges: low student achievement, high poverty, low morale, and inadequate resources. It was from that experience that our principal and his team learned what was possible through intentional change. The mission to transform the culture to one where a college future was plausible for our students showed all of us, that if it could happen there, it was possible anywhere. This school developed into an AVID National Demonstration Site and continues to thrive as a model for AVID learning.
I am one of a fortunate few who has the chance once again to help create a college ready culture in a middle school that, by most standards, was doing pretty well on its own. Once again we set out to test the theory that building a college ready culture in most any school is possible with a few key ingredients present such as strong leadership focused on instruction and supported by AVID champions.
I speak for a band of compatriots who had taken up residency in a new lair with our former principal and have recently reunited in a new brigade to slay the two-headed dragon of mediocrity and complacency. Our new school is hardly a bad place; we have great kids and wonderful colleagues in a nice facility. The test scores are pretty respectable as well. It just has room for improvement. It has room for building and sustaining an AVID culture.
Our present crusade began two years ago, when the school introduced AVID. Last year brought intentional growth in AVID awareness, adjustments to instruction, and most importantly, a clearly defined mission. We go into this third year as a true AVID school, adopting identifiable AVID strategies schoolwide.
How did we accomplish that in two short years? The school leadership and AVID champions demonstrated that students are more successful when they adopt the AVID strategies. Those leaders were deliberate in modeling and using the AVID name, college going culture, and WICOR (writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading) methodologies, which have all become part of the academic language of the school. The balance of our teaching staff now embraces the power of the AVID approach.
There was significant and deliberate nurturing of our AVID Site Team last year. The Site Team worked diligently to revise the Site Team plan on several occasions. Later in the year, the Site Team members actively took part in recruitment and student selection. These two activities empowered the Site Team to value the collaborative process and results. Moving forward, the Site Team this year will engage a strong core of experienced members mentoring new members to ensure depth and sustainability for years to come.
This year, all Legacy students use the AVID binder system, take Cornell notes in all classes, and use critical reading strategies. Teams have been constructed to focus on student learning, while professional learning communities dissect and then restructure collaborative instruction. While offering high school level courses to 7th and 8th grade students was not new to Legacy, moving to teams made it possible to offer these rigorous classes to a greater number of students.
Other noteworthy changes in systems were enacted. The master schedule was shaped to enable teams at each grade level to collaborate and support each other. AVID elective classes expanded and are now staggered throughout the day, facilitating tutor recruitment. Student recruitment and selection for the AVID sections was purposeful and better informed.
What is the secret to this gradual but intentional change? Building a culture of trust and empowering educators to be educational leaders are two of the essential ingredients. The faculty that assembled for opening day this year was carefully selected and encouraged to participate in collaborative teambuilding activities from day one of pre-planning. The pay-off came in the final faculty meeting of the week, when we all shared in introducing our teams to the rest of the staff, culminating in a brilliant flurry of camaraderie and frivolity. A common goal was communicated and a united front was ready to do battle.
A significant number of instructional and administrative staff has been trained in AVID methodologies. In the first two weeks of the school year, all faculty and students practiced focused note-taking strategies, instead of merely using the Cornell note format. Additionally, the school-wide lessons infused WICOR strategies into every classroom’s culture.
More than 20 faculty members attended Summer Institute, which is a substantial commitment in a school with a very limited budget. This sent a strong message that AVID was and will continue to be a priority at Legacy Middle School.
All students who adopt AVID strategies benefit by becoming confident students, who are empowered to learn. So, we’re off to a great start on our new mission, bolstered by the experience that careful nurturing of a college ready culture can and will transform a good school into a great one!
Lisa Crangle has been an AVID Coordinatior and Teacher for the past 9 years in Orange County, Florida. She has also worked as an AVID Staff Developer.