Program mines the middle

AVID helps move average students toward college eligibility.

By Jessica Brady Times Staff Writer
Published October 19, 2007

John Copeland was a teacher in Sacramento, Calif., when he first heard about a new program that helped average students realize their college potential. He didn't know too much about it then and never thought he would oversee such a program at his own school.

In the years to come, AVID - Advancement Via Individual Determination - would be used in schools across the globe.

Then in April, Copeland, now principal at Memorial Middle School, learned that his school would be one of 16selected locally this year to offer the program.

Twenty schools in Hillsborough participate in the program, which involves 1,900 students. The district will choose more schools and plans to double the number of schools and students next year, said Jorma Young, AVID district director and supervisor of academic programs for Hillsborough County Schools.

AVID targets students with average grades and prepares them for college eligibility.

Students whose FCAT scores are in the middle, but show college potential, are selected for the program.

Memorial started the program this school year and has chosen 90 students in seventh and eight grades to participate in the elective course.

"I'm glad we were selected for AVID, because I've had good experience with the program previously and I think anything that ups the academic rigor for young people and underrepresented students, regardless of race or sex, is important," Copeland said.

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Copeland's first experience with how AVID works came after he moved to Florida five years ago and started working at Plant City High School, where he assisted the AVID teacher.

Once he heard Memorial was chosen, he asked former English-language learner teacher, Lucinda Rio, to be the AVID coordinator and teacher.

"It's for those students with a 2.0 to 3.5 grade point average that might need a little extra help getting into advanced classes, so they have a better chance of getting into college," Rio said.

Rio went to Atlanta for 41/2days to be trained in the AVID curriculum. Schools and teachers have to use the program for two years before they can become AVID certified.

"Memorial was chosen as part of a movement to target inner-city schools with high minority rates," Young said.

Potential AVID students write an essay and complete an interview process for enrollment. They are given a 2-inch binder to keep school work organized.

Copeland believes the core principles of AVID can benefit all students, not just those enrolled in the program. He spent about $6,000 in school funds to buy binders for every student at Memorial.

"I think there's a noticeable change, not just with the 90 kids enrolled, but with all of our kids because we have applied some of the fundamental principles of AVID throughout school," Copeland said.

For instance, students schoolwide are learning how to take notes using techniques used in AVID.

It's too early in the school year to know whether AVID has increased students' performance or test grades, but Rio said she has noticed her students are more organized and can better reflect on the things they learn in other classes.

Students who take the AVID class follow a strict regimen for learning. Each week, they are given two days of a rigorous curriculum, two days of tutorial sessions with college tutors and a lecture from guests speakers on Fridays. The most recent speaker was Santiago Corrada, administrator of neighborhood services for the city of Tampa.

The goals that teachers like Rio set are just as important as guest speakers and tutorials.

"I have goals I want to achieve by the end of the year, like teaching them what they need to do to get into college early on, so when the time comes in high school, they know what scholarships are out there and what kinds of grades and SAT scores they need to have," Rio said.

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AVID originated in 1980 at a San Diego high school, but it wasn't implemented in Hillsborough County until 2003. Plant City High School was the first school in the county to use the program and has since become AVID certified.

"The point is that we have these programs for gifted students and for students who are falling behind, so there is a large number in the forgotten middle who are not at their full potential," said Steven Baratte, assistant director of marketing and communication for AVID.

"If we can reach those students and get them up, then they will be a part of the higher-achieving students."

Plant City has shown what the program is able to accomplish. Data provided by Young show that Plant City's honors course enrollment rose from 208 students in the 2006-2007 school year to approximately 445 students this year.

The program costs $100 per student, which is paid for by the district and a grant from an independent company.

"Our whole focus is to get more first-generation kids ready for college and give them the opportunities they haven't had before," Young said. "I absolutely feel we are achieving our goal and the program is working."

Jessica Brady can be reached at jbrady@sptimes.com or 813 226-3339.