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
What makes AVID work?
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."
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.
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.
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."
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,"
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
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.
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 Avidonline.org 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.