When eighth-grader Averi Zalabak signed up for Landstown Middle School’s (LMS) Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) class at her school this year, she did it for one reason.
“I decided to apply because it would help me get ready for college,” she said. “How to take better notes mainly.”
But this year, the school’s AVID classes have expanded to help build on one more skill: leadership.
The elective class, where students learn college readiness skills, expanded this year to include a partnership with the neighboring Landstown Elementary School (LES).
Once a month, the middle school’s sixth- and eighth-grade students make their way through the hallway that connects the two schools and visit various assigned classrooms to serve as mentors, lunch buddies or read to their younger counterparts.
“Leadership is part of the curriculum,” according to AVID teacher Julie Erwin who said that she and Jeff Hofmann, LES principal, brainstormed the idea last summer as she was going into her second year teaching the elective.
By October, Hofmann was the invited guest speaker in the AVID classes and challenged students to help mold the younger students into leaders by being positive role models. Before leaving, he invited the students to partner with the elementary school.
Erwin wanted students to have a voice in the partnership so she first had meaningful discussions with them about what “volunteerism” means before surveying students about what they thought the partnership should look like with the elementary school.
After survey results were tabulated, one representative from sixth, seventh and eighth grade attended the elementary school’s instructional leadership team meeting where they answered questions about the partnership. The leadership team supported their plans and by December, sixth- and eighth-grade students were helping in classes.
Meanwhile, the seventh-grade AVID class, which meets after the elementary school’s dismissal time, are still involved by creating projects. For example, they have created audio recordings of themselves reading some of the elementary school student’s favorite books. Those audio links will be shared with teachers to share with students.
But AVID is more than a leadership class.
“The goal of AVID is to get you not just to college, but through college,” according to Erwin. “Once [students] get to college, they might not have strong study or leadership skills or don’t know how to network. That’s what AVID does.”
Each class centers on building students’ writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading skills.
They write reflections which helps their writing and reading skills.
They also help build each other’s inquiry skills. For example, a student might share a problem with other students who are seated in a horseshoe arrangement listening and helping.
“The student at the board might say ‘I have a problem with this and this is what I tried,’ and students ask guiding questions to help him discover his own answer,” Erwin described.
Students also have to be active participants.
“They get points for participating and asking questions,” Erwin said.
Organization is another important skill that they learn.
“They have to have all of the materials in class so that they are ready to help so even if they don’t present that day,” Erwin explains. “I might say ‘well he is going to present a math question so I might have my math book and I can help him this way.’ So it’s having everything all the time. Being prepared.”
Just like in college, she also emphasizes that students might not have tutors so teaming with study buddies is another skill that is taught.
Although these skills are important for all students, Erwin states that AVID classes takes a lot of hard work and dedication, particularly since the class is their elective unless they sign up for zero bell electives.
Students also have to make a commitment to maintain a good grade point average.
“If their grades fall below 2.5 they go on a watch list and if it falls below a 2.0 then they’re on probation and we have parent meetings on how they can get their grades up,” Erwin states.
But what makes it all work is that they are an AVID family, according to Erwin.
They see each other every day and they also spend time together outside of class, like attending volleyball games.
Although students have to apply to be in the class and commit to succeeding, enrollment continues to grow each year.
Two years ago 75 students were enrolled.
Last year it grew to 92 and this year 106 students are in the classes.
Regardless of the numbers, Erwin says that that true success is the individual growth that she sees in students – whether in the ground gained in their grade point average during the course of the school year or in their personal growth.
“We have students who are incredibly shy and this class brings them out of their shell,” Erwin said. “This becomes their community.”
Eighth-grader Courtney Anderson, who has been in AVID three years and plans to continue the program into high school, agrees and even says that there is one more reason why she was excited when she heard about the partnership added this year.
“We get to be kind of like their mentors. It’s nice to see the younger students smile when you come in. It helps us when we’re helping them.”
For information about the AVID program at specific schools, contact the building’s AVID coordinator or counselor. The school division has the AVID program in the following middle schools and high schools:
Bayside Middle School
Bayside Sixth-Grade Campus
Bayside High School
Brandon Middle School
Corporate Landing Middle School
Cox High School
Great Neck Middle School
Green Run Collegiate
Green Run High School
Kempsville Middle School
Kempsville High school
Landstown Middle School
Landstown High School
Larkspur Middle School
Ocean Lakes High School
Plaza Middle School
Salem Middle School
Salem High School
Tallwood High School
To learn more about the program, visit avid.org or follow the school division’s AVID program on Twitter at @VBAVID.