Tweens + Teens

AVID program reclaims forgotten students

Our schools are filled with them: kids who show up, hand in most assignments and drift through the day without making waves or turning heads. This "forgotten middle," found in all regional, ethnic and economic groups, seldom advancing to higher education, was largely ignored until 1980, when San Diego educator Mary Catherine Swanson founded AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

As court-ordered integration brought an influx of lower-income Latino kids to her suburban, mostly white school, Swanson, a high school English teacher, felt overwhelmed.

"The kids I least liked to teach were kids in the middle," she says. "They knew enough to get through school with C grades. It was sort of OK with them and their parents. When our school got a lot of those kids, it was clear to me that this was where we needed to focus. I knew we had to put them in a regular education curriculum and figure out how much support to give them to be successful." So AVID was born.

Now a national organization that sets standards, trains teachers and certifies school programs, AVID serves 115,000 students, grades 5-12, in 36 states and 15 countries. Since 1990, 77 percent of AVID graduates have attended four-year colleges (twice the national average); 17 percent attend community colleges.

AVID serves children from rural, minority, economically and educationally disadvantaged homes, as well as those in urban, suburban and affluent milieus. Everywhere, AVID aims to reclaim forgotten kids and set them on an academically rigorous path to college, providing them with tools to succeed along the way. In 2003, AVID came to Washington state.

What makes AVID work?

Motivated students. Students are selected with good attendance and low- to high-average grades. Some programs, like Federal Way's and Bellevue's, start in middle school; others, like Shoreline's, start in ninth grade. All are multi-year commitments. "We select kids using a complete battery of assessment information: teacher recommendations and advice from counselors as to who best fit the profile," says Linda Gohlke, AVID district director for Shoreline. "AVID is not a remedial program," adds Michelle Hood, middle-school AVID teacher at Bellevue's International School. "It's a support program."

Study skills. AVID students learn time-management and organizational, test-taking strategies, as well as the Cornell note-taking system, to help them distill and organize information.

Accountability. AVID focuses on bonds of mutual responsibility between students and teacher. Student binders are checked frequently. AVID teachers maintain contact with their students' other teachers and check up on kids who are absent. No student is allowed to fall through the cracks.

Team support. AVID teams include teachers from all disciplines, plus classroom tutors who are often AVID graduates. They don't just give answers, Swanson says. "We teach kids to ask questions and learn to answer questions themselves using the Socratic method."

Continuity. Teachers stay with the same class through school. "Until I had kids in AVID for four years instead of one, and I was responsible for how they did in everything they did for school, I had no idea about what these kids often had to overcome in their homes, in their communities," Swanson says.

Flexibility. Course content is determined by what the kids need. This year, her group is struggling with test-taking, Hood says, "so we're spending some time on that now. Next year there may be a group who can't get themselves organized and we'll need to spend much more time on that,"

AVID students take AP and honors courses. Evidence shows that when they are given support, they thrive in rigorous classrooms with high student expectations.

While AVID has an enviable track record, it is costly -- although its adherents quickly point out that the cost of academic failure is at least as high for students, families and the community at large. Ironically, less-affluent districts whose students might benefit most from AVID are the ones that are least able to bear the financial cost. Bellevue's AVID programs receive substantial support from the Bellevue Schools Foundation, while Tacoma, with a higher percentage of kids AVID was created to serve, will end its program in 2006, largely for lack of resources, says Foss High School Principal Sharon Schauss.

"It's the best program I have seen" she says, regretfully. "We put money into so many things that aren't proven. Yet here, we have something with a proven track record and results." If resources become available again, Schauss says, she'd like to reinstate it.

Nancy Thalia Reynolds, author of Adopting Your Child and Going Places: Alaska and the Yukon for Families, has a son in college and a daughter in high school.

To Learn More:

The national AVID organization presents annual informational programs on how to implement AVID. "The AVID organization will work with school districts anywhere," Mary Catherine Swanson says. For more information, visit and see Gene Maeroff's book, Altered Destinies: Making life better for schoolchildren in need. New York: St. Martin's (1999).


Originally published in the February, 2008 print edition of ParentMap.

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