AVID program sets Pasco High students' sights on college

DADE CITY — Freshman Megan Trippett didn't have huge expectations entering high school.

She had no plans to take honors classes. She didn't have the best study skills in the world.

She knew she wanted to go to college afterward, if for no other reason than to become the first in her family to do so. But she never had even visited a campus before.

After spending time in Pasco High School's new AVID program, Megan, 14, has high hopes for the future.

Her note-taking and organization have improved. She's succeeding in her honors history course — every AVID student has been placed in at least one honors class — and is looking into taking more higher-level classes.

She's also seen that college is possible after a group tour of Saint Leo University.

"I thought high school was going to be a lot harder than it actually is," Megan said. "AVID makes high school a lot easier."

That's exactly the kind of result Pasco High leaders wanted as they pursued the nationally recognized Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, program for their campus.

AVID, begun in California, is in more than 4,500 schools in nearly 900 districts across the country. Aimed at motivating under-served students in the academic middle by raising expectations and providing added support, it has seen several successes.

For example, the proportion of Hispanic students in AVID taking AP exams nationally is about five times higher than that of Hispanic students not in AVID. In Florida, 90 percent of AVID students finished high school with all university entrance requirements completed, compared to 36 percent of non-AVID students nationally.

Large percentages of students entering the Dade City high school come from families that have little experience with higher education, and a majority graduate without college plans. Often, the disconnect comes from a simple lack of direction and preparation, something that principal Pat Reedy believed the school could provide.

With the backing of a grant from the Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, Reedy was able to bring AVID to Pasco High this year after past failed attempts to secure it. Ridgewood High also launched AVID this year.

Reedy chose Robin Walters, a past teacher of the year, to coordinate the effort.

"It is something this county needs," said Walters, who received training along with several other teachers over the summer on how to prepare the students. "In this day and time, you can't just graduate and think you can get a job."

Populated by 45 freshmen selected by test scores, teacher reference, middle school grade-point average and attendance, the program includes tutoring by upperclassmen, training in note taking, deeper thinking and organization, and a college focus.

At first, the students didn't buy into the efforts, which included a specific way to write notes and put together a single tabbed binder for all their courses.

"The first couple of weeks we took it as a joke," said Mitch McCurnin, 14. "We took AVID as a joke because it was just an elective."

As Walters and the other teachers focused the lessons, however, the students came around. Their study habits improved, Mitch said, and their grades went up.

"Now, I couldn't see myself doing it any other way," said Noah Edwards, 14, as his tutorial group worked on geometry problems with classmates.

Cheyann Lynn, also 14, agreed.

She said she "hated" the single binder at first. Same for the Cornell notes method that has students write their questions or key points on the left side of the paper and observations on the right.

"It was coming into something you didn't really want to come into," she said. But in time, she added, "It's really helped us."

After the first report card period, 85 percent of the AVID students had a grade-point average of 2.0 or better.

The students also have begun to see college as realistic, and ninth grade as the launching pad — not as a goof-off year.

"Ms. Walters has opened our eyes," said Tabby Peteler, 14. "It starts in ninth grade. It's harder to make up (bad grades) than it is to earn (good ones)."

Sophomore Allie Newlon, 16, one of the program tutors, said she could see AVID working already.

"I feel like they've been coming in with more difficult questions, and at the end (of tutoring sessions) they understand," she said. "You can tell they're on top of things."

Over time, the district hopes to see AVID and its lessons grow as more teachers and students become accustomed to its ways, curriculum specialist Darrell Huling said.

"These strategies are effective for everyone," he said. "We hope other students catch on."

Pasco High is looking to expand AVID to 10th grade next year, when it adds another class of ninth graders.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

AVID program sets Pasco High students' sights on college 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 1:37pm]

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