Program helps produce college-bound students

County's first class of AVID graduates recognized

May 17, 2006|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTER

To gauge the success of Woodlawn High School's "AVID" program, just read the board at the front of its classroom.

Students proudly proclaimed on a "chalk of fame" their memberships in Woodlawn's class of 2006 - and the class of 2010 at the colleges they will attend.

These 17 students learned to take organized notes and ask probing questions, and gained the self-assurance to ask them, through the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. Tonight, Baltimore County plans to recognize the achievements of 113 high school seniors from Woodlawn and seven other schools who are the first from the county's program to graduate.

Of those, 98 percent are going on to four-year colleges, said Jessie L. Douglas, the school system's AVID coordinator.

But that might not have been their fate. The students were chosen for AVID's elective course on study skills and college access because they were average students who had the potential to take on more challenging schoolwork.

Now, teachers are incorporating the program's techniques into other subjects.

"Increasingly a lot of superintendents are using it as a key strategy for closing the achievement gap for students," said Adam Behar, spokesman for the San Diego-based program. Schools in Baltimore County have been "taking something that was serving some students in the academic middle and spreading it throughout the school and throughout the district to serve all students," Behar said.

Baltimore County School Superintendent Joe A. Hairston was the keynote speaker at a national AVID/College Board conference in March because of the district's success. He will speak to the graduating seniors at an event tonight at Goucher College.

"What AVID proves, at Woodlawn, Kenwood, Pikesville and the other participating schools, is that the schooling of all children is of interest to us. My expectation is for every Baltimore County public school student to succeed, as the AVID students have succeeded, by experiencing increased academic rigor. All students can excel," he said in a prepared statement.

Nationwide, more than 122,000 students at nearly 2,300 middle and high schools use the AVID program. Of the graduates, 95 percent go on to college; about 77 percent go to four-year colleges and universities, Behar said.

Two Anne Arundel County schools adopted the program in 1998, and now all 19 middle schools and 12 high schools offer it, said Carol Ann McCurdy, the school system's coordinator of academic support. In Baltimore County, 768 students at 15 high schools use the program, which is to be offered at all high schools by the 2007-2008 school year.

Many are the first in their families to go to college. Others are members of underrepresented minority groups or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, considered an indicator of poverty.

Every student is strongly encouraged to take Advanced Placement courses, and more than half of Baltimore County's AVID seniors have met that challenge. Many colleges and universities offer credit to students who perform well on AP exams.

"These are students who would have never considered" taking AP courses, Douglas said.

Students begin setting goals in the ninth grade and research the steps necessary to achieve them. They also practice writing college essays and taking college tours.

At Woodlawn, all 17 students were accepted at their first choice for a college. Students have earned more than $100,000 in scholarships, said Albert Holley, one of Baltimore County's 18 AVID coordinators.

County leaders agreed to spend an additional $1.1 million during this school year for 14 AVID teachers and staff, professional development and memberships to expand the program to a total of 15 high schools. In his budget proposal for next year, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has included a request for three-and-a-half additional AVID staff positions, as well as $187,000, to help the program expand to five more schools.

Several of Woodlawn's AVID students attributed their success to the program. "I always wanted to go to college. I just didn't know where and how I was going to pay for it," said Cherisse DeShields.

She is planning to attend Towson University and she has been awarded three scholarships and three grants for her education. She was named salutatorian and has taken seven AP classes since her sophomore year.

"When I first came in I was an OK student, but now I'm at the top of my class," DeShields said.

She said she was initially put off by some parts of the program, such as regular "binder checks" in which teachers shake students' notebooks to prove nothing will fall out. But now even her room is cleaner because of AVID's emphasis on organization, she said.

"At first, it was embarrassing and you got mad because they did it," she said, "but now I see it paid off and I'm thankful that they did it."

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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