All but one of 63 high school seniors have completed the final assignment of their college readiness course - by getting accepted into college.

School District 833 administrators said that represents nearly a 99 percent success rate for the program known as the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). AVID targets students in the “academic middle” who generally get As or Bs in regular classes but score Cs in advanced classes. 

This legion of the adequate often is overlooked, said James Tiede, instructional design coordinator for the district’s teaching and learning services department and an AVID coordinator.

“We’re usually working with the high achievers or the ones who are struggling,” he said.

About 4,500 middle and high schools in the country teach AVID classes, including those in District 833.

In addition to college acceptance, goals of AVID students include enrollment in at least one honors or advanced placement (AP) course.

This year’s college-bound AVID students include 32 at Park, seven at East Ridge and 24 at Woodbury. Many of those got accepted at multiple colleges, said Molly Lester, AVID elementary liaison for teaching and learning services.

“AVID doesn’t just address the achievement gap,” Assistant Superintendent Mike Johnson said. “It addresses an expectation gap and an opportunity gap.”

When compiling a recent administrative report on AVID, Johnson asked coordinators at several schools to relate anecdotes about AVID that they found interesting. 

“It was quite powerful,” Johnson said. “There was very little GPA. They talked about peers and inspiration from their teachers.”

Students who choose the AVID elective class often cite the camaraderie among their classmates. Kids who may feel like outsiders in high school find kindred spirits in their AVID class.

“You see all types of people from different races, different cultures,” Park senior and Dell Scholarship winner Kahdra Ahmed said. “It’s like a family. It helped me have a voice.”

Park senior Dang Mai, 19, said AVID helped give him the courage to pursue his goal of becoming a math teacher. A shy youth, he spoke little English when he emigrated from Vietnam in 2012. He dreamed of becoming a math teacher but fretted that his thick accent might prevent him from communicating with his future students.

The collaborative nature of AVID classes helped him overcome social barriers. He’ll major in math at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

“AVID inspired me to be what I want to be,” he said. “It not only helped me improve my English, it taught me organization and responsibility.”

Park was the first school in the district to implement AVID in 2009. It graduated the first group of AVID seniors in 2013. Woodbury High School graduated its first AVID seniors last year.

East Ridge had one AVID senior graduate in 2014. This year, all seven seniors in the AVID program at East Ridge got accepted to a college, said Mary Seidel, AVID site coordinator and AVID elective teacher at East Ridge High School.

While AVID teaches some of the three Rs, the chief focus of the curriculum is teaching students how to process, retain and apply knowledge that they learned in other classes. They use the five-step Cornell note-taking system, which requires them to formulate questions based on what they wrote down and to recite them aloud. They also learn organizational and critical-thinking skills. 

“They’re not just sitting there finding the right answer,” Seidel said. “It’s more like, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ It’s problem solving and critical thinking.”

Collaboration is a key component. Two days a week, AVID students engage in Socratic tutorials with college students. Rather than answer a question posed by a classmate, the discussions are intended to generate more questions. Dialogue, not debate, is emphasized.

“As part of the assignment in AVID their senior year, they have to apply to five schools and have to apply for 10 scholarships,” Seidel said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s paying off.” 

Park AVID counselor Khou Xiong said the AVID strategies have spread to other classes in the building. The productive study habits learned in AVID can be used again and again throughout their college careers. 

“I don’t think our program would be quite as strong if our AVID teachers were not who they were,” she said.

Students who want to take the AVID elective class fill out an application, write two short essays and discuss their goals in a 15-minute interview. 

“We want kids who have the potential to do well and, with a little support, will do well,” Xiong said.

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