Program produces `AVID' learners

In its 3rd year in Arundel, initiative that inspires academic improvement is subject of conference

April 09, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

By the time he was in fifth grade, R.J. Sullivan had attended elementary schools in Nevada, Virginia and Garrett County. His nomadic childhood, which included a year of traveling and living in a car with his mother, took a toll on his education.

He repeated third grade, then lived with his father in Garrett County for a year. He returned to Anne Arundel County to live with his grandparents before starting fifth grade, he said.

That's when he joined his school's AVID - or Advancement Via Individual Determination - program.

"When I started AVID, I was really just a regular kid," he said. "No determination."

But AVID, a program that aims to push students to higher academic levels, taught him how to study and helped him succeed, he said. It wasn't difficult, he said, and he liked working in study groups and learning from tutors.

R.J. was one of several students speaking about his AVID experiences at the program's annual leadership conference, held Tuesday at Severna Park High School. About 500 middle school and high school students attended.

After the speeches, students broke into groups for seminars that were run by high school students involved with AVID. Topics included "Are you ready for high school?" "Are you ready for college?" and "Surviving the SAT."

Anne Arundel is one of three counties in Maryland that has adopted the AVID program, which was started 25 years ago by a classroom teacher in California, said Carol Ann McCurdy, coordinator of academic support for the county schools. The other two counties are Baltimore and Queen Anne's. The national program boasts a college acceptance rate of between 93 percent and 97 percent, she said.

The Anne Arundel program, in its third year, has about 3,000 participating students from 31 middle schools and high schools, McCurdy said. She noted that AVID is not a remedial program. "We basically take them out of their classes and move them up to more advanced classes," she said.

AVID teachers are trained in the specifics of the program.

Students apply to be in AVID. If they get in, they meet with tutors and also learn how to study in groups. They learn specific study skills.

"Once they have been selected into the program, they sign a contract, and they are basically committing to good attendance, good behavior. ... They are also committing to things like taking the advanced classes," McCurdy said.

After the program's first year, McCurdy said, "We wanted to do something to showcase what the students were doing because they were making such great strides." The result was a student leadership conference.

She explained that the students developed the seminar programs with the help of their AVID teachers. They could hold sessions on whatever topic they wanted, as long as it related to academics. The sessions also had had to be interactive and include activities for participants, she said.

In a seminar called "Unity in Diversity," the student leaders - Felice Hawkins, Ashley Wilson, Jody Miller, Chrisol Chavez and Brittany Trombley, all from Old Mill High School - had the students play a game called "Mafia," in which they took the roles of detective, townspeople and police.

Rachel Aquino, an AVID teacher at Old Mill Middle School North, watched from the sidelines. She said AVID is so popular at her school that there are waiting lists for it. "One of my kids said to me after testing that the strategies we used really helped her answer the questions," she said.

"I'm so proud of these kids, and they're proud of themselves," she said.

Nicole Dixon, an eighth-grader at Meade Middle School, was one of the students at Tuesday's session. She has been involved with AVID for two years, she said, and has found it helpful, particularly with math. "I wasn't doing too good in math," she said, adding, "Ever since I've been in AVID, I made honor roll. Before that, it was here and there."

Wayne Howden, the AVID teacher at Meade Middle School, said about 125 students are participating in the program, up from 50 last year and 25 the year before. He said students respond well to tutoring from parents and college and high school students, and they learn valuable study tools. "It's a great program," he said.

Amber Dowling, a seventh-grader at Meade Middle, said she particularly likes the Cornell note-taking technique. As the teacher talks, Amber writes the main idea on the left side of her page and puts supporting facts on the right. That way, her information is well organized and easy to follow. "It's a little bit of work," she said of AVID. "But it helped me a lot. I've been studying a lot better."

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