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AVID Teacher Gives Students Roots and Wings

by John Hines, AVID Elective Teacher & Coordinator, Todd Beamer High School

As part of my summer reading, I finished a New York Times Corner Office interview with Kat Cole, president of Cinnabon. In this interview, what stuck out to me the most was the favorite expression of Kat Cole’s mother, “Don’t ever forget where you came from, but don’t you dare let it define you.” As an AVID teacher helping many students become the first in their family to graduate from college, I find that this advice is critical.

For many of my students, the struggle is trying to make a better life for themselves, without losing their connections with their families, friends, and communities. With most of them, going to college means a break with the past, with what those around them have done, and going off on their own. It also often means being subjected to derision, scorn, and rhetorical questions like, “So you think you are better than us now?” It seems as if their choice is stark: a past that they love and feel deeply connected to and a future that is full of potential, but also uncertainty. They want to have both, but many have told me that they often think that they have to reject the past in order to have a bright future.

In this statement, “Don’t ever forget where you came from, but don’t you dare let it define you,” I hope that my students can find some peace with their decision. Their experience has shaped them into the person they are today. At the same time, they have the potential and opportunity to ask and receive more for themselves, and they should take it. While others around them may feel like the choice is one or the other, I want them to see that they can have both.

I have twenty-five seniors looking to go on to “bigger and better” things. They will begin exploring and applying to colleges, and upon graduation many will be the first in their family to go there. This challenge will change their lives by giving them a new opportunity, but also by separating them from what they know. As we go through the year, I will try to remind them that they don’t ever forget where they came from, but they shouldn't dare let it define them.

We need to enlist the families, friends, and communities in order to support the students and create a complete sense of self. We also need to connect them to their community, so that their friends and families are not leaving “because they think they are better than them” but because they supported them and made it possible. To do this, at Todd Beamer High School we have attempted to make this student-family-community connection throughout the year in our courses.

  • Signing Day Event: Over the past two years we have made a big production out of signing AVID contracts (think national letter of intent day for college sports). We bring in students and families and take pictures of them signing the contract. We celebrate the shared commitment they are making to the future and recognize that we are excited that we are all in this endeavor together.
  • Student AVID Presentations: Each year we have students create and share presentations on AVID for the non-AVID students in our school and at our feeder middle schools. The students share their life stories, the obstacles and accomplishments, and how AVID supported them along the way. This helps them create their own historical narrative and develop their sense of self, along with helping bring greater engagement in AVID from the community.
  • The Most Influential Educator Award: At our senior banquet, we invite all of the students and their families in to celebrate a successful AVID year. The event is all AVID-student-run and we provide food, have student speakers, and give out awards to our AVID students. The highlight of the evening is the most inspirational educator award, for which each senior picks the teacher from their life that had the greatest impact on them. The AVID teachers search out these teachers and bring them in. The students then share how this teacher inspired them to the success they have found. It is very emotional, with plenty of tears, and is often the only time our AVID students get to speak at a schoolwide event. It is the best part of the entire year and helps bond the students, families, and teachers ever closer together.
  • Community Partnerships: In order to fund these opportunities and further connect our students to the community, we have partnered with the local Rotary Club. Our students earned a grant to fund activities in exchange for volunteering at their annual fundraiser. They had a great time, made great connections with the leaders of our city, and helped support our program.

This year we are looking at celebrating AVID students of the quarter with family pancake breakfasts, creating parent support groups for AP tests, and conducting a cultural talent show to raise money for our big college field trip. In any way possible, we are trying to draw our families in and connect the students to the community. In the end, I hope to teach my AVID students to be rooted in the past, guided by the future, and supportive in the present.


John Hines currently serves as the AVID Coordinator and teaches social studies at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Washington. He also serves as the president of the Washington State Council for the Social Studies and is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2013. Hines is a graduate from the University of Puget Sound and is a proud, lifelong resident of Tacoma, Washington. In his spare time, John enjoys coaching football at Henry Foss High School, running, and spending time with his wife and son.


For more on AVID, visit http://avid.org/what-is-avid.ashx.

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Reader Comments (1)

This school is awesome…definitely building cage busters at an age when leadership qualities begin to emerge. Way to go Federal Way!

October 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSchnitzel

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