By Jacqueline Dipzinski, AVID Teacher, East Irondequoit Middle School
Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” To me this quote means that if we (teachers, tutors, counselors and administrators) have the tools to teach students the skills to be successful and the students use the skills daily as a habit - they will attain excellence. I believe this is the essence of what AVID means everyday in the classroom.
As I reflect on my first two years of experience as an AVID elective teacher and coordinator, I see how much we have all flourished. The people with whom I have worked over the past two years have provided me confirmation in my belief that all students have the potential given the right skills to succeed.
When the AVID students first walked into my classroom they brought their own beliefs and ideas of what the AVID program was all about and what it could do for them. Since then, many changes have occurred as the students learned and embraced the AVID philosophies. One student wrote to me in an essay that “AVID is one of those simple things in my life that leads me to believe that I can achieve anything.” Another wrote, “This program [AVID] has made me a much better person as a student and a citizen, and I will continue to believe in myself as much as they do me.”
One student has learned that her abilities go beyond her test scores. This year, she is taking 9th grade classes (Spanish, Algebra, and Studio Art) in 8th grade. Another student overcame her feelings of not being good enough due to comparisons she made of herself with others. She now knows it is okay to be a different type of learner. She is in the top four in her Algebra class! Two other AVID students go home and teach their siblings the AVID strategies and yet another goes home and tutors her older brother who is in high school taking Algebra. These are just a few of their successes.
My most remarkable reward is seeing my students attain goals that they never thought they could. This validates that we are doing something right. It is my goal that as an AVID elective teacher that I am providing the AVID students with hope, giving them new skills, options, and guiding them to be their own learner. After two years, these 8th grade AVID students are like a family with their peers, teachers, tutors, and me. When they are having a bad day or problem, we are there to guide them through the storm. When they aren’t doing well in a subject, we will find out and help them. When they are ready to give up, we provide encouragement. When they are struggling, we teach them the skills to overcome their obstacles. When they don’t understand something, we tutor them. We provide support, consistency, skills, hope and change in their lives. We share with the kids that yes, life isn’t easy; if you want to succeed you need to work hard and never accept “good enough” as your best.
To see the students embrace the philosophies of AVID, use them, grow, change, become excited about learning and begin teaching each other is everything I ever wanted when I decided to become a teacher. I have had teachers come into my classroom to observe and say, “I want that in my classroom.” It is then that I realized the great gains we have made in such a short time. As I see my first group of AVID students leaving our building at the end of the year, I am filled with so many mixed emotions; pride, accomplishment and a little sadness. The depth of changes that my AVID students have made academically and personally is a cherished reward from this experience. The AVID students at East Irondequoit Middle School have come three times as far as their peers within the past two years. This past year we had 16 of 20 students taking advanced high school level course work (Living Environment, Studio Art or Algebra) at the 8th grade level.
I am so proud of each of them for all that they attained through their daily practice toward excellence. I know they will be successful from high school through college with the skills they learned and the bonds they created through AVID. The AVID system has both rewarded and enriched my life through the trials, successes and growth over the past two years. I feel that AVID has helped me advocate for the students, built my confidence and given me the tools to help students to achieve their goals. I have had the opportunity to work with every child and develop relationships which I feel is vital to student ownership and investment in their learning. So the quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit,” by Aristotle truly is the essence of AVID but also the spirit of my classroom.
Jacqueline Dipzinski teaches sixth, seventh and eighth Grade AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Elective Courses and Coordinates the AVID Program for the East Irondequoit Middle School. She has taught at the East Irondequoit Central School District for ten years.