Avid instructor Janet Eidsmore speaks with student Larueen Hammon about the importance of a tidy notebook. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

Key Peninsula Middle School teachers and administrators were touring Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma recently to learn about a new education program being used there called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) — that helps under-performing students to learn the right tools for getting into college and preparing themselves for the future.

While there, a student who gave a presentation on the program said both his parents were in jail and he had all but given up on his studies until he was enrolled in AVID, and told KPMS Principal Jeri Goebel, “If you don’t get AVID, you don’t love your kids.”

“That was a very emotional statement,” Goebel said. And it struck a chord.

AVID was started by an English teacher in California years ago when she realized students who were capable of succeeding in college weren’t even getting in, largely because they didn’t understand the application process and how to successfully navigate it.

School districts nationwide are picking up on the program — now run as a non-profit organization — with the Peninsula School District being one of them, Goebel said.

Being run as a pilot program in the district, the elective AVID class is only being offered at Key Peninsula Middle School to mostly eighth-grade students and to ninth-grade students at Peninsula High School. The program will be evaluated by district administration and if successful, will be implemented district wide.

Students must meet certain criteria to be asked to enroll in AVID, such as having a GPA of 2.5 to 3.5, be of minority status, be in low socio-economic conditions or be the first in their family to attend college.

“Students need to meet one or more of the criteria to be qualified,” said Andrea Bowman, assistant principal at KPMS. Students are then put on a waiting list must fill out an application for the course and be interview by school staff.

“We want kids who want to be in the class,” Bowman said.

Once fully implemented, students will stay in an AVID class from middle school until graduation, with Goebel noting that students in schools where the program is up and running refer to others in the program as “their AVID family.”

The daily curriculum includes three days where a specialist goes over writing and inquisitive reading strategies. Two days of the week are tutorials, where a college-age volunteer or other trained adult facilitates a session where the students stand up before their peers to present a topic and discuss what they found difficult. The student is then encouraged to find the solution on her own and through a collaborative effort of the peers.

“These students are set up for success,” Goebel said. “They must present to their peers, much like a masters program in college. This is a lifelong skill and the program gives them the belief they can do it.” AVID makes the students be better organized, she said. They learn to discuss answers rather than just asking for the answer.

“During the tutorial, they have to tell what they understand and say what they don’t,” Bowman said.

Volunteers needed

Adult or college-age volunteers are needed year-round to help facilitate the tutorials twice a week, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, at Key Peninsula Middle Schools. There is no teaching involved or required.

“A lot of students out here (the Key Peninsula) don’t think college is even a future they can think of having,” Bowman added. But results at other districts are showing a high rate of students in the program going on to colleges.

“In Mount Vernon, there were $1.5 million given in scholarships and $1 million of that went to AVID students,” Bowman said.

AVID also is having an effect across the KPMS campus, she noted. “We’re taking the basic concept and spreading it across the campus.” An example she gave was the Cornell system of taking class notes taught in AVID is now being utilized by the whole staff.

“We want parents to get excited about AVID as well,” Goebel said. “They need to promote their student for the class.” They are hoping to build a waiting list to get into the class, as has happened at other schools, like Jason Lee.

That student who almost gave up on school and was turned around by AVID is now applying for admission to Ivy League colleges, Goebel said.

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