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Rachelle Welander’s eyes light up when she talks about the elective classes for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders she teaches at Key Peninsula Middle School (KPMS). “Showing kids that they can do anything, that learning is lifelong. That has been my passion for my entire life, and this program helps me to do just that,” she said.

AVID 8th-graders show off their participation in the program. Photo: Rachelle Welander

KPMS incorporated AVID (Achievement via Independent Determination) into its curriculum three years ago. It is a national program focusing college preparedness for “middle achiever” students typically underrepresented in college. The curriculum develops writing and organizational skills, as well as having students reflect on their own learning, learning style and study skills. They also visit college campuses and learn about financial aid.

The school identifies students to participate, but each student agrees to take AVID as an elective. This year the classes are fully enrolled.

The curriculum starts with basics, students are given planners and binders and shown how to use them to build organizational skills.

The program also teaches techniques to simplify learning new concepts. Using a Cornell notes template, they explore an essential question—breaking it into main components and then taking notes about those ideas from things they read or discuss. The system connects students to information while they learn how to use it.

Each week, they meet with tutors to review worksheets listing “points of confusion” they don’t understand in their classes. Said Welander, “The worksheets help students learn how to think, to slow down, break it up, understand what you do know and where you are confused.” Welander emphasizes to her students that the grade they receive in a class does not correlate with points of confusion. “I want them to know that you can get an A and still not fully understand everything,” she said.

AVID 6th-graders at work in tutorial session. Photo: Rachelle Welander

Small groups of students meet with volunteer tutors who act primarily as coaches, leading students to discover their own answers.

In addition, each student works on a Socratic seminar several times a year. The current topic is whether or not Hurricane Harvey was the result of climate change. Students explore their own opinions, read articles with opposing points of view, and come to their own conclusion.

Eighth-grade AVID students commented on how the program has affected them. “I have learned how to reflect and understand,” said one. “I have better grades” said another who is now getting As and Bs. Last year his pattern was to bounce from a D or F and dig himself out to pass at the last minute. “I feel like part of a team,” said another. “I’m organized now. I can find everything.”

Donations from the Angel Guild allowed students to go on field trips to Tacoma Community College and Pacific Lutheran University. A visit from local college students is planned later this year.

Welander said, “I see students go from not really caring to being excited about what happens after high school. They no longer believe that college is just for rich kids. They have a plan. It may go from a simple plan now to something bigger when they are in high school. It’s exciting to see the learning that starts here become a lifelong trait.”

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