By Rosemary Ellis, retiring AVID Central Division Director
When asked to write a blog describing my association with AVID, my mind ventured down many possible paths to share all the important discoveries, affirmations and life lessons that have been a part of the journey. Briefly, the first three years were spent as an AVID District Director in the Arlington Independent School District in Texas. I came into this role with NO knowledge of AVID and, quite frankly struggled to juggle the many hats I was expected to wear in the AVID District Director role and in the role of the Director of Dropout Prevention for a district of 62,000 students. The last seven years have been spent as an employee – first as a consultant, then as Central Division Assistant Director, and finally as the Central Division Director. My learning curve in this process can be more accurately described as a cliff face – there was no curve visible!
Here are my lessons learned:
1. Students deserve our best – the years they will spend in school represent the most important of their lives, considering the opportunities that will be opened to them for determining their life’s path or those that will be forever out of reach. The combined efforts of students and educators working with an incredible amount of individual determination will either serve or hinder these young people long after their formal education is complete.
2. Educators got into this business for a purpose – the opportunity to touch the future far beyond our lifetimes is an intriguing objective. The look in the eyes of learners when they accomplish things they thought were out of their reach is the elixir driving those involved in teaching and learning to continue on through the political noise, the long hours and the frustrations of systems which seem to be at cross purposes with a strong learning environment.
3. The challenges facing students and educators are enormous – anytime a person feels as if he/she has no way to define their life in a positive way, the result can be an overwhelming sense of desperation and hopelessness. Changes in the field of education come in such a fast-paced way that it sometimes is difficult to determine what is defined as the “most recent best practice.” Students and educators alike want to do their best to meet the challenges facing them.
4. AVID provides the structure and training to make this all work – remember that AVID District Director with NO knowledge of AVID? Well, she asked – Why do we need AVID to do AVID? Here is what I found then and see in practice now with districts throughout the AVID world:
a. AVID provides the coherent professional learning opportunities in the Summer Institute (SI) experience for a core group of educators at each site. They are not going to different conferences, with different and sometimes competing expectations then coming back to their school trying to create a workable application of the skills learned in their respective trainings. The SI experience is augmented by other opportunities in Path Training, Regional/Divisional events, e-learning opportunities, etc. to increase both the number of educators trained in AVID strategies throughout the school year and the number of students directly impacted by the presence of AVID at each site.
b. The AVID site team has opportunities during the SI training to come together to discuss (and reinforce) their learning and to plan how those can be incorporated into their school’s continuous improvement pathway. This time set aside within the SI experience, lays the groundwork for the successful implementation of AVID at their school, with ongoing review and adjustments made throughout the year as data on student performance is reviewed and analyzed.
c. The AVID site team identifies and works to change policies and procedures within the district which create barriers for students trying to access more rigorous courses. Work to open new, non-traditional entry points into the existing course progressions is absolutely necessary and incredibly challenging. This work has to be done with creative interventions developed to address the prerequisite skills and support systems necessary for students to be successful in these challenging courses.
I will miss the important work that has determined my path and the amazing people who have shared our work. I cannot adequately describe how meaningful these last 10 years have been. To have had a part in the growth of AVID and to see the positive impacts on students coming from the combined efforts of educators in districts and AVID staffs has been so exciting. Anyone involved in an effort such as this realizes that everyone involved has been a crucial and irreplaceable cog in the wheel moving forward. If any individual had not been there, the progress would have not been the same. While my journey is complete, yours continues on. It is with great confidence and overwhelming gratitude that I pass the torch to you. Carry it with great determination, pride and integrity. Our shared future depends on an educated society which has the determination to face the new challenges with inquiring, collaborative minds – eager for the next best practice.