By Stacie Valdez, AVID Consultant and Staff Developer
I had been a teacher for 25 years before becoming involved with AVID. The majority of my career was spent at Wichita North High School, an urban high school with many of the challenges that typically face urban schools. The 48% graduation rate, the sad fact that only one in three students could pass a state math or reading assessment, and a paltry offering of six Advanced Placement sections reduced the school’s standing to the bottom of the state’s largest school district. When we made our journey to San Diego in 2001 for our first AVID Summer Institute, I wasn’t quite sure that AVID would be the right program for our school. But I did know that we had to try, because our students deserved a better education. I can write this blog today because I know firsthand of the success of AVID as a school wide college readiness system that benefits the entire school community.
Despite AVID’s worldwide success, there are common misperceptions about the program among parents, students, and staff who are not directly involved in the implementation of AVID. Many believe the time, money and energy that a school spends is only for the students in the AVID elective class. Not so. Just like building a strong foundation for a house so it can withstand harsh weather, building a strong foundation is also necessary when implementing AVID.
AVID is not a quick fix; it is a transformation of a school’s culture, leadership, instruction, and systems. So in building a solid foundation for true systemic change, the focus at first is on the AVID elective class. And while a great deal of focus is placed on the AVID class when a school begins its journey with AVID, more than just the AVID students benefit. Paying specific attention to the AVID elective class helps ensure that the foundation of the beliefs and practices of the AVID College Readiness System is being established.
In the first year or two of AVID implementation, a concentrated effort must be made to have an adequate number of trained tutors, ensure that the AVID-trained teachers are using the various AVID WICOR strategies in their classes, and involve parents in the AVID implementation. However, even in the first year of implementation, many students beyond the AVID elective class are impacted by these college readiness strategies that AVID encourages in the school community.
The first requirement of a new AVID implementation is for a school to send an interdisciplinary team of eight to their first Summer Institute training. The four academic core teachers on the site team participate in AVID’s professional learning that focuses on best practice methodologies. These are research-based strategies proven to have a positive impact on student learning. Teachers implement these strategies in their classes, thus support more students.
For example, when Wichita North High’s first site team attended Summer Institute, there were five classroom teachers on the team. I was designated to be the first elective teacher but had four English classes also part of my teaching responsibilities. So when I learned about the Cornell Focused Note Taking process, I also utilized the strategy in my four English classes. Thus, 130+ students were impacted by my professional learning experience. Then include the other four teachers in the English, Math, Science and Social Studies departments from our high school who also implemented various AVID strategies, and the number of students impacted by AVID’s professional learning could easily be 650 or more. One of my colleagues, Jeff Freund, detailed his own AVID journey in a previous blog.
Throughout the school year, the AVID site team facilitates professional learning for other staff at their school. Expanding on the example above, when the AVID-trained teachers facilitated professional learning sessions on Cornell Focused Note Taking with the other 100 teachers at North High, potentially all students attending the school received a benefit of AVID implementation.
AVID encourages this cost-effective method of professional learning as a site expands the AVID system. During years two and three of AVID implementation, plans are made to increase the number of AVID elective sections with diverse staff, to create a system for all students to access classes of rigor, and to increase the site team’s size and influence. Teachers across the campus, including AP®/IB® and dual credit teachers, are using AVID WICOR strategies in all classes. AVID becomes a schoolwide effort when the culture of the school is a college-going one. AVID is schoolwide when a strong AVID program transforms the leadership, systems, instruction, and culture of a school ensuring college readiness for all students. In future blogs, each of these four domains will be presented by sites who exemplify the schoolwide AVID College Readiness System.
To illustrate AVID’s impact, in short order, Wichita North became an AVID National Demonstration school. 100% of teachers are trained and the AVID professional learning is a continuous cycle at the school. The impact on community is seen through the pride students, parents, and staff now have in their high school. North’s success precipitated a districtwide implementation of AVID; now over 20 secondary sites and eight elementary sites also have AVID as a system.
Unlike many other reform programs, AVID does not try to fix a school in one fell swoop. Instead, the AVID philosophy of schoolwide college readiness is strategically implemented so that all students and staff will benefit. To use another analogy, AVID is the pebble tossed into the pond. At first there is a small ripple from the initial impact. But if we continue to watch, we observe that other larger ripples follow as a result of that first ripple. Before long, the ripples reach the outer edges of the pond until the entire pond feels the impact of that one pebble that had been tossed.
Before I attended my first AVID Summer Institute, I wasn’t sure if AVID was the answer for North High. Today, I can say, unequivocally, AVID was a key component in transforming a school that was struggling to survive to one that is bursting with pride for all of its positive accomplishments. A stand-alone program would not have worked. North High needed a systemic overhaul. AVID was an essential part of the solution.