Cactus Canyon Attracts AVID Learners

Program guides students into positive mindset and higher expectations

By Dana Trumbull

AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. It’s an appropriate name for a program that unlocks potential by changing students’ perception of themselves from tacit acceptance of the status quo to belief that they can achieve whatever goals they set for themselves – not with the wave of a magic curricular wand, but with positive mindset, peer support, organizational skills, study skills, communication and self-advocacy.

By teaching and reinforcing strong academic behaviors and higher-level thinking, AVID teachers create a ripple effect in later grades. Apache Junction Unified School District is planning to send that wave rippling through the district, beginning this year with the 7th and 8th grade students at Cactus Canyon Junior High.

The 29-8th grade and 15-7th grade students accepted into the AVID program are making a 5-6 year commitment. With that in mind, Apache Junction High School is gearing up to open the 2019-20 school year with AVID implementation at the 9th grade level, adding additional grade levels as the cohort advances. Administrators hope to push the program to the elementary grades in the future, as well.

CCJH Principal Courtney Castelhano explained that the strategies used in AVID add focus to many of the teaching strategies that have been used at Cactus Canyon for years; however, students accepted into the program should expect increased rigor. All of the AVID participants are enrolled in at least one advanced class, while many are taking up to three advanced classes, choosing from advanced language arts, advanced science or a higher level math class (advanced math, algebra, or geometry). “We’re teaching the kids that, if they’re not good at something, they need to keep trying; failure is just another step toward success.”

AVID students attend classes with the general education population throughout the day, but their schedules include one course simply referred to as “AVID elective.” It is in this class that students learn to integrate the socio-emotional habits needed to excel in college – or in achieving any other goal. “Right now, we’re working on relational capacity,” explained AVID Math Teacher Tina Jada. “They are trying to become better friends with each other and getting to know more about themselves. We just finished creating our social contracts of the rules and policies that we’d like to see in our classroom, then we all signed it.

“We are also working on formal introductions – how to introduce themselves so that they can talk with other people and advocate for themselves. After the first quarter, we’ll be doing tutorials, where we’ll have high school and college students come in; students will pick their points of confusion, and they will get into groups to work on those subjects. If they’re not having difficulty with anything, then they will work on helping others.

“The hope is to encourage them to feel confident about themselves and to advocate for themselves so that they can get the best educational experience possible to help them get into a university – whether they’re the first generation in their families to attend college, someone who might not have that opportunity otherwise, or someone who needs more assistance at school. And for all of them, it’s giving them a place to belong at school.”

“We have a lot of great kids,” added Math Teacher and AVID Counselor Rachel Mangum. “They just don’t necessarily have the path to get them to that further education.”

Statistically, 97% of students who complete AVID go on to attend a college or university. 85% enroll in a second year of college, as compared to the 78% average for US students (2015 data). Overall, the college graduation rate for AVID students slashes the achievement gap by as much as 15 points, with the greatest advances made in socio-economic groups that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education (www.avid.org).

“I was this kid,” shared Jada. “I am the first generation in my family to go to college. I’m also very strict as a math teacher, but I’ve seen a transformation in myself, just in the short time I’ve done AVID. My classroom environment has changed – I’ve always had desks in rows, and now I have tables. My AVID kids get to pick where they want to sit, so as long as they’re responsible – which really requires me to know them as individuals. I end my class by asking them to sum up what we did that day or to tell me what their opinion is. I find I do a lot less talking and a lot more listening, and for some strange reason, I share things about myself that I have never shared with students before – things that make me nervous; things I get excited about… I’ve always tried to play it off like those feelings weren’t there, but for some reason, I feel like these kids need to know that I get nervous, too; I make mistakes too. I find myself wanting to model for them what I think this program is about – the changes and the hard work it takes, but how rewarding it is, too.”

Photo above: Tina Jada’s AVID class members participate in a Socratic Seminar, where students are encouraged to think for themselves, exploring and evaluating ideas and issues.

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