Advancement Via Individual Determination — AVID — is the name and aim of a college-prep program that tackles the ‘achievement gap.’
Guadalupe Genis, Sammy McMahon and Edward Dominguez, ninth-graders at Nicollet Junior High in Burnsville, have a similar story to share about their elementary school years: They weren’t great students and didn’t believe they could do well in school.
Then, in sixth grade, visitors from a program called AVID came to their classes. For the first time, all three saw a chance to be successful.
“I took it as, I think I can better myself and set an example of what you can do,” said Dominguez.
Genis had always felt that people wouldn’t think she was smart because she was Latina. The program “gives you hope and makes you set goals for yourself,” she said.
Today, they are all on the honor roll, signed up for challenging classes and planning to be the first in their families to attend college, which they attribute to AVID.
Many south metro school districts have signed on with Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID. It’s a 35-year-old program started in California that aims to “close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society,” said Jennifer Kuras, AVID’s Upper Midwest director.
While Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brooklyn Center schools have had the program for nearly a decade, most of Minnesota’s 141 AVID secondary schools have joined in the past seven years, Kuras said.
Helping students in the middle
AVID helps prepare students who are academically in the middle — B, C, and even D students — by providing organizational and study skills they may not have learned elsewhere, Kuras said.
“It was really kind of a novel approach,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership. “As opposed to focusing on the high fliers or those with the highest academic deficiencies, if you will, this program targets students in the middle.”
The program isn’t explicitly geared toward students of color, but minority students account for 85 percent of AVID participation nationally, which is why many schools find it a useful tool in targeting the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students.
The skills are learned during an elective period during the school day. That makes AVID different from other college readiness programs like Upward Bound or College Possible, which are after school.
The program creates a college-going culture, where students learn how school works, what colleges expect academically and the nuts and bolts of choosing and applying to one. Often participants are first-generation college students, low-income students or students of color, Kuras said.
The strategies behind AVID aren’t revolutionary, said Stacy Wells, integration and equity coordinator for Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan. But the way the program has packaged everything together is “what makes it so unique,” she said.
AVID also becomes a support system because students have a peer group with shared goals. Wells said that when she conducts interviews with AVID seniors, “One piece that always comes out is that AVID is a family.”
AVID classes typically stay together and have the same teacher while at a school. Some districts start it in seventh grade and others in ninth, though the program has curricula for younger students, too.
Genis said that her AVID teacher of three years, Danielle Christy, “is like a mom to us. If you have a bad grade, she’ll make you go talk to the teacher and fix it.”