By Rob Gira, Executive Vice-President, AVID Center
I recently had the pleasure of making remarks to nearly 1,400 AVID high school graduates who were gathered for the AVID senior celebration at California State University, San Bernardino. These events are always inspiring, as we highlight the achievements of students who make us proud. The convention center on campus was packed with proud parents and families, along with AVID teachers and site team members. Miceal Kelly, the AVID regional director for California’s Region 10, took note that AVID seniors in the region (about 4,000) complete the requirements for the CSU and UC system at about a 90 percent rate. As a comparison, the rate for all high school graduates in California is below 40 percent.
In my comments to the seniors, I asked them to leave a strong legacy on their campuses, and reminded them to take their AVID tools with them, including their Cornell note-taking techniques, higher-level inquiry skills, and organizational skills. These are all great AVID pieces that should indeed remain part of their efforts in higher education.
But I think I caught them a little off guard when I told them that perhaps the wisest thing they could do would be to take the concept of the AVID “family” with them to their colleges and universities. This is an often-quoted part of AVID’s structure, which involves a strong bond with their peers, tutors, and even the AVID site team. At the San Bernardino senior recognition, I could have quoted the research on this, but this was, after all, a celebration, and they were not there to listen to a lecture.
Yet, establishing a social network, an ongoing peer support group, is one of the most important lessons in AVID, along with a student’s willingness learn, and to seek help from tutors and staff. Since the publication of Constructing School Success in 1996, an early definitive study of AVID, those of us in the AVID world have emphasized the importance of this in building resilience in our AVID students, along with academic behaviors and transition skills. According to Mehan and Hubbard, a strong peer network, combined with AVID’s academic training, mitigates poverty, lack of previous academic preparation, and difficult circumstances.
Why should the “family” concept be part of a student’s college readiness portfolio? Numerous writers and researchers have taken note of the significance of a strong social network in success and even in health. An interesting take on this is the preface to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Outliers, in which he describes the community in Pennsylvania, with an unusually healthy population, despite the fact that their pattern of diet and exercise was no different from surrounding communities. The key to their good health, one doctor who studied their community concluded, was an abundance of social networks and support structures.
In his groundbreaking research on mathematics success at UC Berkeley, Dr. Uri Treisman (studied the social and academic behaviors of calculus students. His findings included the fact that Chinese students were more successful than other groups because their networks were both social and academic. They could be found collaborating on math problems while having pizza, framing questions for their instructors, having fun but preparing academically. Other students were far more isolated, attempting to succeed on their own. Despite their hard work, many of them failed.
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, a former instructor at Harvard and now a popular speaker regarding his seven principles of positive psychology, offers numerous research studies to support the importance of making a social investment. He also describes the behavior of two of his freshmen students, Amanda and Brittney, who were roommates. Brittney invested in a social network, organized study groups, and flourished, despite the pressures and challenges at Harvard. As Achor says, “Every time Brittney had lunch or a study session with friends, she wasn’t just having a good time—she was decreasing her stress level, priming her brain for high performance, and capitalizing on the ideas, energy, and motivation that social support provides.” Meanwhile, her counterpart, Amanda, sequestered herself in a library cubicle, isolated herself from classmates and friends, and experienced high levels of stress.
Guess which one stayed at Harvard?
It is gratifying to hear of AVID graduates who take the AVID concept of collaboration and social networking with them to college. In a previous post (October 6, 2011), I interviewed Magaly Solis, a hardworking and resourceful graduate of Plano Independent School District in Texas. Solis, who began taking AP courses in eighth grade, learned about the power of collaboration in her AVID class, a concept she took with her to UT Austin. As she said, “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.”
Whether we are talking about college or university campuses or the workplace, investing in our social capital pays off. Among many studies, Achor notes that “…each positive interaction that employees have during the course of the work day actually helps return the cardiovascular system back to resting levels…and that over the long haul, employees with more of these interactions become protected from the negative effects of job strain.”
So, AVID graduates, remember to buckle down, study hard, but study smart: collaborate, have fun, and thrive!