The walk across the commencement stage is the same distance for everyone. The road leading to it is longer and tougher for some.
Erin Park and Sam Bartlett get that. They teach Advancement Via Individual Determination classes, more commonly known as AVID — a program that helps students who are motivated to go to college and beyond but need someone to light the way. Some didn’t know English when they arrived in Eagle County. Most are the first in their families to consider college.
“They knew they had to work to make things better. They couldn’t just wait for things to get better,” Bartlett said.
Working toward their dreams
AVID is a system. Like most successful systems, it works if you work it, Bartlett said, adding that “work” is the operative phrase.
“You need to find the right kids who show determination and are willing to make some sacrifices,” Bartlett said.
The AVID program recruits students who are motivated and serious about their academic futures. The class helps provide the skills needed to be successful with the ultimate goal of attending college.
Park said their goals and dreams are like most graduating seniors’ — aiming toward careers in things like engineering, business, nursing, medicine, the U.S. Marines …
In Eagle County Schools, AVID classes can start as early as sixth grade. The students stay with it as they enter high school. The class and their teachers stay together four years. Park and Bartlett have been with this year’s classes since the students were freshmen.
“It allows teachers to build relationships. Once you build that relationship you can help them stay on the right path,” Bartlett said.
Once they’re in they have to meet certain criteria, including grade point average and good behavior.
“We say they have to act like an AVID student. Their teachers should know who they are,” Park said. “Throughout the last four years, I have witnessed this incredible group of students evolve into a family.”
Some students start with the AVID program in sixth grade and stay with it through high school. Students need to show some drive. If they don’t have that drive or are a problem, they can derail others, Bartlett said.
Not always, though. There was this one kid who was defiant and confrontational. They looked beyond that veneer and saw the qualities AVID seeks. That kid is now working with a local veterinarian and is headed to college to study to be a veterinarian.
Already looking ahead
They’re done, but like everyone else their school year didn’t end with a traditional finish. Park and Bartlett hear from their AVID class members all the time.
“I’ve been really impressed. They’re wise beyond their years. They’re all level-headed about this,” Park said.
For the Class of 2020, commencement is not normal.
“I wanted to stand up there and say goodbye to them,” Park said. “Working with this class-turned-family has been the highlight of my teaching career.”
AVID is a national program that reaches 2 million students in 7,500 schools across 47 states. They train teachers to help close the opportunity gap and prepare students for college, careers and life.
It started in 1980 amid the chaos of forced bussing on San Diego. Teachers at San Diego’s Clairemont High School had low expectations for students bussed in from disadvantaged areas. Many believed these students could not succeed.
Mary Catherine Swanson, English department head and teacher, was not one of them. She believed if students were willing to work, she could teach them the skills needed to be college-ready.
By 1986, Swanson’s AVID system was so successful at Clairemont High School that it expanded the AVID program throughout San Diego County, and eventually the country.