By Dr. Sandy Husk, AVID Center CEO
Across the U.S., school has already begun in many districts, with others engaged in the planning and preparation so necessary for a smooth beginning to the school year.
During my nearly 20 years as a superintendent, the opening of school was always filled with a mixture of excitement and more than a bit of nervousness. No doubt, this is true for all educators as they prepare to welcome a new group of students. In the classroom, the stakes remain high, and the challenges are significant, as students often come from poverty and difficult circumstances.
But no matter what the students’ situations may be, we know that, in every district, there are a monumental number of staff members from all ranks who are fully committed to the success of their students. Principals, office staff, custodians—all of them combine to provide the best possible environment for the children who count on us. And let us not discount the commitment of our families. In AVID, we often hear stories of parents who are working two or even three jobs to keep food on the table and provide the best home environment that they can to support their children’s dreams.
Teachers, though, are our special heroes, and as a superintendent, I tried to support them with the best professional learning opportunities that I could find. When I discovered AVID, I found an organization that shared my passion for developing teachers, investing in their professionalism, and having them work together—not only to sharpen their skills, but also to serve as advocates for their students.
This summer, my first as AVID Center’s CEO, saw record-breaking numbers at AVID’s 10 Summer Institutes. Nearly 29,000 educators from around the world showed their commitment to student success by learning AVID strategies and methodologies that they will use in classrooms schoolwide. It was amazing to be a part of this great work and to see the immense AVID learning community move education forward. I also enjoyed listening to ideas and suggestions from our educators across the country.
Our student speakers exemplify what we want in all students. They ranged from middle school to college in age, including AVID graduates. I heard them say how important it was for them to have teachers who believed in them, instructed them, challenged them, and caught them when they fell. Of course, some of them recounted tragedies that they had experienced, trauma and tribulations being an all-to-frequent experience for our young people. But, they also spoke about the power of their AVID peers, their families, and their teachers, and how they overcome obstacles. Their optimism, spirit, and grace under the pressure of speaking before several thousand participants frequently brought us to tears.
Our teacher speakers captured the spirit of AVID, which was, of course, founded by Mary Catherine Swanson, the first AVID teacher. They ranged from relatively new educators, like Vaega Toilolo from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, to veterans, like Sean McComb—an AVID teacher from Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Maryland, who was also chosen as the 2014 National Teacher of the Year. Sean captured the importance of the teaching profession well, saying, “When our classrooms can be an oasis of grace, when we are champions of children, when our programs provide a pathway for students to bolster their beliefs in themselves, college dreams can and do come true. The power of AVID is in people. It’s in relationships, it’s in relational trust, it’s in teachers with a heart for this work heavily investing in students.”
When I left Salem-Keizer, Oregon, to join AVID Center, I was given a gift by my friends and colleagues, which I now keep in my office. The photos of students at all three levels of the K–12 system keep me grounded and connect me to AVID’s mission. They are also my heroes and serve as a reminder of why we do this work.
During my Summer Institute remarks, I shared my vision for AVID to impact 2,000,000 students by 2020. When I see the
opportunities and life-changing possibilities that AVID can bring to both students and teachers, I am inspired and motivated, and in a hurry to reach as many students and educators as possible. We currently impact more than 700,000 students, and while I am proud of how far we’ve come, there are millions more who need the AVID experience so that they can achieve success. At AVID Center, we are all committed to achieving that goal.
I also said, and will continue to say, that teaching is the greatest profession and that teachers are often the most respected voices in their communities. So, I implore teachers to speak up and to share your opinions with the community—including parents and community leaders—regarding what is necessary for our children so that they have every opportunity to succeed.
So, the school year begins again.
Welcome back, our heroes, teachers and students alike.
For more on AVID, visit http://avid.org/what-is-avid.ashx.