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Preventing an Elite Program from Becoming Elitist

By Liz Mizrahi, District AVID Coordinator for Bellevue School District, in collaboration with the entire Interlake AVID/IB TeThe AVID/TOK Team from Interlake High School with Liz Mizrahi, District AVID Coordinatoram: Maria Frieboes-Gee, Michael O’Byrne, Alison Pendlebury, Marisa Corso, and Matt Daniels

Interlake High School’s Answer to the IB and AVID Dilemma

Interlake High School’s AVID/Theory of Knowledge (AVID/TOK) class was born in a car ride from Portland to Seattle two years ago.  Interlake’s principal Maria Frieboes-Gee and IB Coordinator Michael O’Byrne were driving home after attending an IB conference.  Both Maria and Michael noticed similar troubling trends with IB and AVID at Interlake.  For one, even with Interlake’s seven period day, students could not take the AVID Elective class all four years of high school and complete their IB diploma. This meant that promising AVID students with the top grades and college prospects were forced to leave AVID in their crucial senior year to finish their IB diploma.  Secondly, IB was in danger of getting the reputation as an elitist program.  

Interlake’s IB program has two parallel tracks: gifted students complete the program their 10th and 11th grade years, and traditional students complete the diploma their 11th and 12th grade years. Interlake is the only IB school in Bellevue, Washington, so it draws all students within the district.  With the growth of the program, a gap developed in participation in the IB Diploma program between the students who live in the Interlake attendance area and those who come to Interlake from around the district.  Students who live in the attendance area are more likely to be students of color (27%) and qualify for free/reduced lunch (41%) than those students from elsewhere in the district (8% students of color, 16% f/r).  Third, and most importantly, hard-working, capable students, both AVID and not AVID, were dropping the IB diploma in the eleventh hour because they lacked the support, both social and academic, to make it over the finish line.  These key issues weighed heavily on both the IB and AVID programs at Interlake and on their respective program leaders, teachers, and students.  The AVID/IB TOK class was created as one way to address these issues.  

What is AVID/TOK? 

The combined AVID/Theory of Knowledge course is intended to integrate learning from all academic subject areas and foster personal understanding, the ultimate goal being college success. Blending AVID college preparatory curriculum and IB Theory of Knowledge, this course emphasizes rhetorical reading, analytical writing, collaborative discussion strategies, peer inquiry study groups, and preparation for academic success in college.  The course seeks to define knowledge, evaluate claims, and explore the relationship between knowledge and the knower both academically and in students’ lives beyond school using AVID inquiry, reading, writing, and collaboration strategies.  Students apply their learning through a variety of methods in order to increase their awareness and credibility, and leverage that new understanding into increased academic success.   AVID/TOK students spend class time preparing for entrance and placement exams and college study sessions, and they refine test-taking strategies, Cornell note-taking, time management, organizational skills, and presentation methods using the Theory of Knowledge curriculum.

As with all AVID classes, another primary goal of this course is to close the opportunity gap by providing greater access for all students to the most rigorous courses such as IB, especially Interlake’s AVID student population, of whom 50% are students of color and 41% are on free/reduced lunch. Interested students still must apply, be interviewed and accepted into the program, and maintain college eligible grades and citizenship while in the course. Another recruitment “selling point” for students is that they can take TOK even if they are not choosing to pursue the full IB diploma. A current 11th grade AVID/TOK student not pursuing the full IB diploma says it best:  “AVID is very well represented in the AVID/TOK mashup. I now use the AVID techniques and methods a lot more than I have in the past two years [of AVID]. I also think that learning how we know and learn [has] helped me to understand why we do the things we do in AVID.”

At the 12th grade level, seniors spend at least one day a week on college applications and college entrance requirements, in addition to traditional AVID tutorials with college-aged tutors.  And to Matt Daniels, senior AVID/TOK teacher, he truly sees this course as a blended model, merging their college needs with the core TOK curriculum:  “To me, AVID and TOK are the same.  They are both about empowerment through knowledge and self-awareness.” 

How did AVID/TOK become a reality?

AVID can only flourish in a school with supportive leadership.  Maria believes in AVID and IB, and, in her own words, “it just wasn’t acceptable that students had to give up an AVID class that was responsible for their academic success in order to pursue the IB diploma.” To make AVID/TOK a reality, Maria gives special consideration to AVID when building the master schedule, including scheduling the AVID sections first and, when possible, providing planning time between AVID teachers’ core classes and AVID classes. In addition, Maria sent all of her AVID/TOK teachers to AVID Summer Institute and IB trainings.  Teachers who are forging this AVID/TOK path are experienced, skilled teachers who chose to take on this new course. 

Successes, Challenges, and the Future of AVID/TOK

Only in its second year at Interlake, AVID/TOK is experiencing many successes.  As AVID/TOK teacher Marisa Corso says, “The [AVID] students are ripe for the TOK material. Asking them questions about knowledge, truth, certainty, and validity—those are the questions that excite juniors and seniors in high school.”  The students also cite the supportive environment, thoughtful discussions and critical thinking as a success.  Junior Merril, an IB diploma candidate who has been in AVID since 7th grade, says, “This class really teaches us how to properly understand who we are in a way I didn’t think any class could.”  From a program standpoint, AVID/TOK is also allowing more individualized attention to the full IB students because they are in AVID, says Alison Pendlebury, one of Interlake’s IB coordinators: “I think several [AVID students] would have been too intimidated to seek us out independently to ask their questions, and they may not have immediately known the relevant questions to be asking.”

Growing the AVID/TOK course at Interlake is not without its challenges.  Enrollment in AVID/TOK is tenuous and is currently running a small senior section and full junior section.  Recruitment is challenging, as the AVID site team and IB department are still fine-tuning the AVID/TOK student profile.  Tutorials are challenging to run, since students are in so many different IB courses. The course itself is challenging to differentiate, since currently most of the students are not pursing the full IB diploma.

Despite the challenges, Interlake is excited about the future of AVID and IB.  As Maria, the principal, says, “We are opening access to the IB program by increasing course offerings in all IB subjects, allowing students to choose a path through the diploma program that focuses on their strengths. My goal is for AVID to be the support vehicle that guides students down their IB path. Those students who want an IB diploma, but are not sure they can do it without support will have the AVID program to teach and reinforce the skills they need to be successful in a rigorous college prep program.”  The ultimate goal for all of Interlake’s AVID students is that they graduate high school having taken the most rigorous courses possible, preparing them for their college futures.  

This blog is part of a series of blogs that discuss AVID and International Baccalaureate (IB). For more, see: Course Placement: Why Do We Need to Understand the Process, AVID and IB: Success with a Schoolwide Approach, and AVID and IB: Complementary, not Competitors.

Liz Mizrahi got her start in education ten years ago, as an AVID Elective teacher and English teacher, first in San Diego County and for the past seven years in Bellevue, Washington. Liz is currently an AVID District Director. She is also finishing up her Administrative Credential from the University of Washington and plans to use this new credential and knowledge to further strengthen and growth AVID in Bellevue, which currently serves almost 500 students in 10 secondary schools, grades 7–12.  She lives in Seattle with her husband, two daughters, and two corgis.   

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Reader Comments (1)

Thank you Liz for furthering the AVID dialogue with your experience and solution. The AVID/TOK blend almost seems like a natural fit suited to the needs of your students. At the same time, it has provided me with some inspiring ideas to address some challenges of our own. I am most impressed with how you identified a problem--and began building a constructive solution. You could have simply said, "oh well...it is what it is." But you didn't. That's the lesson I am taking to heart.

Once again, thank-you.

Paul Bendall, Victoria, BC

May 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Bendall

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