Makin’ Our Dreams Come True

Flash back to 2008 when Gabriella had to go her own way, leaving the Wildcats behind, after being accepted to Stanford early admit. Heartbreak was on replay. Now with a little foresight, we know that she did the right thing by taking that chance and running from the High School Musical. College is a very real thing for high school students, and getting in is hard to say the least. But what about the kids who are not likely to get into college to begin with? The stats stack up against certain groups, such as minorities or children of disadvantaged socioeconomic background. AVID is a program designed to help these students.

AVID, Advancement via Individual Determination, was created more than 30 years ago to help “close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society.” The “achievement gap” refers to “any significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between different groups of students, such as white students and minorities” according to the AVID website and the Glossary of Education.

AVID logo

AVID was the idea of a high school English teacher from San Diego named Mary Catherine Swanson. The need for AVID schooling was sparked in 1978, when the U.S federal court ordered San Diego School District to integrate students of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, creating the disparities we see today such as lower math and reading comprehension scores in minorities. After completing her Master’s thesis in education, Sawnson identified the key components needed in a classroom to help students succeed. The eight components, on which AVID is based are: A non-traditional classroom setting meeting the academic and emotional needs of individual students, the teacher as advisor/counselor/student advocate, an emphasis on objective data, the student at the center of decision-making regarding educational goals, a student contract outlining willingness to work and setting learning goals, student support from teachers and skilled, trained tutors, a curriculum emphasizing academic reading and writing, and reliance on the Socratic process.

As a part of my service learning project for my college education class, I help out in an AVID classroom. They call me a tutor, and as a tutor, my job is simple. I come to the class each Wednesday and Friday morning and participate in tutorials. The tutorial is where students come into class with a question, homework they need help on, a problem they got wrong on a test, something they were stuck on when they were studying, or anything they need help with for a class, and they present their problem in front of a group. This group then asks questions about the question to help the struggling student arrive at an answer — we are not allowed to offer them solutions. I was taken aback by this approach, but I went with it as it is my job. I ask questions along with the rest of the group and make sure everyone is participating. They also are to keep a binder that has everything in it, but the catch is, it has to pass the test. The test consists of taking the binder by both sides, flipping it upside down, and shaking it. If anything falls out, they fail the test. While this seems extreme, this test is to keep them organized, a skill that comes in handy for college.

Tutorial in progress

AVID isn’t alone in the quest for student readiness. There are other programs such as the Cambridge International Examinations program, which was offered at my local school. The Cambridge program “supports schools to develop learners who are confident in working with information and ideas — their own and those of others, responsible for themselves, responsible to and respectful of others, reflective as learners, developing their ability to learn, innovative and equipped for new and future challenges, and engaged intellectually and socially, ready to make a difference,” a direct quote from the Cambridge program’s website. So it begs the question, is AVID the top pick for student betterment? Through my short time working with AVID students, I have to applaud its progressiveness and ideals, to be the judgment free, college prep zone. AVID gives students the extra time needed for some to understand concepts and get feedback, but the extra time I fear could also be a downside. As I look around the classroom I sometimes feel that the students look at their AVID class period as a free period to muck about instead of a time to be helped and give help. There is also the “at risk” labels that are attached to the AVID program. As Gloria Ladson-Billings, pedagogical theorist and teacher educator, said in her address to the 2007 Urban Sites Network Conference in Washington, DC, “We cannot saddle these babies at kindergarten with this label and expect them to proudly wear it for the next 13 years, and think, “Well, gee, I don’t know why they aren’t doing good.”” But, I have never been formally enrolled in AVID, I have only observed, so for good measure, I asked the kids their opinion of AVID schooling.

The majority are in favour of the program they are enrolled in, with a general dislike to the steep learning curve and change in expectations, specifically in organizational habits. Talking to AVID alumni, who have successfully been accepted into college, AVID has prepared them for colleges that they may not have gotten into without. The want for AVID schooling has broken into the news, with a cry out to replace the program in Alhambra High, a school in Southern California. “I have found AVID provides the crucial support that students with busy parents, like myself, need” says Valerie Cabral, the writer of the article Restore AVID Program to Alhambra Schools: Guest Commentary featured on the Los Angeles Daily News website. She goes on to quote a fellow classmate, “The AVID program gave me the opportunity to strive for college. Most of the middle academic students are forgotten, just go along with the school system, and don’t really worry about their lives after high school. The AVID program really helps these students prepare for school after high school and their careers for the rest of their lives.”

Overall, its boldness is astounding, dealing with problems such as the achievement gap that many educators know about but turn a blind eye to. The gap is real and it is damaging. Any program that takes the bull by the horns and tries to close the gap and turn around our failing education system is worthy of my time. If the future of our world rests upon programs like this, I look forward to that future.

Wall of college dreams and possibilities the AVID students will achieve