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 Article of Interest - Children At-Risk

Becoming AVID Achievers

by Gustavo Reveles Acosta, Star-Telegram Staff Writer, March 3, 2003

Original URL: http://www.dfw.com/mld/startelegram/news/local/5304047.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
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Four years ago, Carter-Riverside High School senior Rogelio Morales would have laughed off his chances of becoming a college-bound student with a perfect grade-point average.

Morales comes from a working-class family in which neither parent has a high school diploma. Grades, he said, were neither celebrated nor castigated.

When he was a freshman, Morales, now 17, learned about a new program at his school that would take "average" students, teach them good study habits, place them in high-academic courses and tutor them throughout the year.

Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, aims to take underachieving students and make them college material.

"I know that I couldn't have gotten into college without AVID," said Morales, who is planning to be a pre-med student at the University of Texas at Arlington next school year. "Who knows what I would have done after high school or if I would have even graduated?"

About 100 students at Carter-Riverside and Polytechnic make up AVID's first graduating class this year, and officials say that all of them have college or the military ahead of them.

"We're just teaching them how to play the game of school and win," said Lee Felts, Carter-Riverside's AVID coordinator. "These are students that are often ignored because they don't score high enough to be noticed or low enough to need extra help."

Teachers and counselors invite students to participate in the program based on their grades, test scores, background and ethnicity. Felts said AVID fills honor classes with a lot more ethnic minority students who will most likely be the first in their families to attend college.

The criteria to get into AVID are not set in stone.

"You're just going to get a lot of different students. These are kids who normally wouldn't get this kind of attention in any of their class," Felts added.

Once invited, the students enroll in a special elective class where AVID techniques on note taking and study habits are taught. These techniques include keeping a binder and a calendar detailing each assignment where help is most needed.

Each AVID school hired several college students to tutor AVID students at least three times a week.

Freida Lee, the AVID coordinator at Daggett Middle School, has four tutors helping 100 eighth- and seventh-graders.

"They're a key part of the program because they serve as a connection for the students," Lee said. "The tutors are college students themselves, and they serve as a role model to follow for our students."

Felts says that an even bigger part of a successful AVID program is the challenge students face by being in honors and advanced placement classes. Students may start with one or two high-academic classes during their freshman year, but may advance to mostly advanced placement or honors courses during the latter part of school.

The students are often discouraged by the workload in high-academic courses or intimidated by the material in them, but Felts said he's yet to see a determined student fail a class.

"I have homework every night, and I have to work really hard just to keep up, but school is a lot more fun," said Eddie Sanders, an eighth-grader at Daggett.

"At first I thought I wasn't going to make it, but knowing how to take notes makes a difference," Sanders added. "And if I'm having problems I know I can always ask Ms. Lee or one of the tutors the next day."

District officials have seen a significant change in students who attend the 10 schools that serve more than 700 students through AVID.

In the middle schools, the number of students in eighth-grade algebra classes has nearly doubled over the previous year. In high schools, the demand for advanced placement courses has also doubled in that same period.

Superintendent Thomas Tocco said he has been impressed by the work done in the 10 sites and is encouraged by the interest that other schools have shown in the program. But a tight budget could impede the development of new AVID sites.

Part of the AVID curriculum -- which the district has to purchase from a California provider -- is federally funded, but some of the cost is covered by the district. The cost per school varies, administrators said.

"We're facing tough times, and at least for now, AVID has been saved," Tocco said. "At this point, we can't talk of expansion because we have to do with what we have."

Still, national AVID coordinators have been enthusiastic about the progress made in Fort Worth and have designated two of the schools -- Carter-Riverside and Polytechnic -- as national demonstration sites. The two schools are example sites for educators who want to start similar programs throughout the country.

"This is more than just an academic program. It's a self-esteem program and even a dropout prevention program," Lee said. "These are kids that are going to go through high school and do something with their lives. I can guarantee it."

AVID - The Advanced Via Individual Determination program, or AVID, is offered at Carter-Riverside, Polytechnic and O.D. Wyatt high schools, as well as Riverside, Morningside, Daggett, J.P. Elder, William James, Dunbar and Forest Oak middle schools.

ONLINE: www.fwisd.org and www.avidonline.org
Gustavo Reveles Acosta, (817) 390-7420 greveles@star-telegram.com

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