Smoothing the road to college

  • Article by: PATRICE RELERFORD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 16, 2007 - 11:19 AM

Hopkins High School wants to help kids who might need an extra push as they make the jump to college. So it's started a college-prep class to teach study and organizational skills.

Early on, Shannon Bailey realized the challenges she would face in getting her classroom of sophomores prepared for college.

When a student arrived late to class one day, she told him he should nix the habit if he expected teachers to write positive college recommendation letters for him someday.

"He said, 'Wait -- we need recommendation letters?'" Bailey recalled.

The lesson the Hopkins High School history teacher had planned for the day faded as questions from other students triggered a 40-minute discussion about what it takes to get into a competitive college.

"That's the game we've set up for kids to get into college," she said, and they need to know how it's played.

Each day, Bailey works with the 25 sophomores for an hour and a half as part of Hopkins High's new AVID class -- which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. It's part of a national program designed to help get kids from the "academic middle" into college.

Over more than a quarter of a century, AVID has earned a reputation for pushing Hispanic, black and low-income students into more rigorous high school courses to get them ready for the next step.

AVID spokesman Steven Baratte, said the program is offered at more than 3,500 schools in 45 states. In Minnesota, 31 schools participate.

"It's typically B, C or sometimes D students who need that push to succeed," Baratte said. Schools "provide the rigor -- we provide the support with tutoring."

AVID students typically enroll in one or more honors or advanced courses each semester. They also learn study and organizational skills and receive professional tutoring twice a week.

Hopkins' program, new this fall, will expand as the current group ages and new students join.

New students, new challenges

As suburban school districts' demographics shift to include more low-income and minority students, programs like AVID help educators understand the academic barriers those students face, school officials say.

For instance, Baratte said many AVID students don't have a "college-going tradition" in their families, so their parents aren't familiar with the college application process. That's where AVID steps in.

Eleven metro-area schools in six school districts launched AVID satellites this fall. Four of the six school districts -- Hopkins, Richfield, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Wayzata -- serve metro-area suburbs.

Hopkins School District Assistant Superintendent Nik Lightfoot said the program is not funded by general fund revenues. The money for Bailey's part-time teaching position and tutors comes from integration funds the district receives from the state Department of Education.

AVID "is designed to work with students who might fall into the achievement gap," Lightfoot said.

A step 'I need to take'

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