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‘Doing what’s best for all kids’

AVID program at Buffalo High School raises expectations, prepares students for college,  helps all students succeed

By Doug Voerding

Teachers want to improve their skills in educating youth. Teachers are always searching for new curricula, new materials, and new methods of instruction, to make that instruction relevant to their students. And administrators are in tune with teachers, guiding teachers to the best practices for teaching today’s students.

Buffalo High School teachers and administrators are doing just that and have found a program that works, not only for a small group of students, but now for all students at Buffalo High School.

Three years ago, AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, was started at the high school with a small group of about 50 students.

Said BHS Principal Mark Mischke, “We had tried other programs, but we wanted something different. We wanted to start small to make sure this program would work for us.”

And work, it does.

Last spring, that first group, which had  for a variety of reasons, gone down to about 20, graduated. Now there are groups in all four grades, with 50 expected in ninth grade this fall.

This year, AVID curriculum strategies will be used in more and more classes at BHS, as more and more teachers are finding that AVID students are better skilled in study techniques.


What is AVID?

AVID is a curriculum of rigorous standards that is designed to prepare students for college, primarily those students who don’t necessarily have college on their radar for the future.

The goal of the AVID program is to smooth the way for students who have the potential for college, by providing the support and training they need to be successful in school, particularly in honors classes and advanced classes.

Developed by middle and high school teachers in collaboration with college professors, Advancement Via Individual Determination was started in San Diego about thirty years ago and is now found, not only around the United States, but also around the world. Many Minnesota schools have adopted AVID as part of their educational opportunities.


Who are AVID students?

An AVID student has academic potential with average-to-high test scores, a grade-point-average of 2.0 to 3.5, college potential with support, and desire and determination. Most AVID students have grades in the D+ to A range.

Students must apply to be in the AVID program and should meet one or more of these criteria: be the first in the family to attend college, be in a group that has been historically underserved in four-year colleges, be from a low income family, or have special circumstances, such as illness in the family, divorce, or tragedy.

At Buffalo High School, ninth and tenth graders can apply. Late in the school year, eligible eighth graders at Buffalo Community Middle School are recruited for the program.


How is AVID taught?

At Buffalo High School, social studies teacher Lacy Schramm is the coordinator of the program. She, math teacher Cassie Mix, health and physical education teacher Gerice Olson, and English teacher Joe Pokorney form the core AVID teachers. All have been trained in AVID by attending workshops and conventions.

The AVID curriculum focuses on five skill areas: writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading. All are skills that are needed for students to be successful in all of their high school classes.

The skills are sometimes called “soft” or “hidden” skills because they are not necessarily measured in academic classes. They are skills that academic teachers expect the students to know.

Those skills, however, do align with the Minnesota state standards as they are being intensively taught in the AVID classes by the four core teachers.

At Buffalo High School, AVID students, for one block of their day, are in the AVID class along with another class for the entire year. Students have their other required and free choice classes during the remaining three blocks

In ninth grade, students are in AVID with math teacher Mix, every other day with their science class. In tenth grade, it’s physical education/health and AVID with Olson. In eleventh grade, Schramm has the students for World Studies and AVID.

Generally, the AVID instruction in those important skills is every other day, opposite the regular class.

In their senior year, the AVID students have Pokorney for only AVID for the first half the year. Pokorney continues to meet with his AVID students during Bison Time for the last half of the year.


How does AVID fit into other classes?

While AVID appears to focus on a small group of students, other teachers are finding the way the AVID skills, writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading, are taught works in their classes, too.

Teachers are finding that AVID is about solid teaching strategies that have been proven effective.

As Mischke said, “What’s good for some kids is good for all kids.”

Teachers found that AVID students were, for example, more skilled in doing research, collaborating with their peers, and reading analytically.The four core teachers are now joined by 30 other teachers who have been trained to support the AVID curriculum in their own classes.

Said Mischke, “Every year, we listen and adjust. We make changes to fine tune the program. Our methods are unique to Buffalo High School, and we make it work for our students.”

This year Mischke said that all the Professional Learning Communities in the building would be focusing on aligning the AVID skills of inquiry and collaboration in all classes.

And Schramm said that this year on one day a month after school, teachers would be offered training in a single AVID topic that they can then use in their own classes.


How is the success of AVID measured?

Each year, AVID coordinator Schramm must provide evidence to the AVID organization about the progress of the students in eleven essential areas. AVID program staff are also available for consultations with Buffalo High School staff.

As teachers and administrators continue implementing AVID skills across the entire high school curriculum, all students will be better prepared to plan their futures, knowing not only that they can go to college, but that they are also ready for the demands of today’s work world.


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