WASHINGTON COUNTY — The hallways of E. Russell Hicks Middle School are named for nearby colleges. There is Towson Boulevard and Shippensburg Drive and WVU Boulevard, all part of a schoolwide push to encourage students to think about furthering their education after high school.
Another part of that push is a national college readiness program called Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID.
AVID now has an impact on more than 700,000 students in more than 4,900 schools and 28 postsecondary institutions in 46 states, the District of Columbia and across 16 other counties/territories, according to its website.
AVID’s mission is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society.
The program is in its fourth year and the first group of AVID students will graduate from South Hagerstown and Williamsport high schools. North Hagerstown High is in its third year and the four middle school sites — E. Russell Hicks, Northern Middle School, Springfield Middle School and Western Heights Middle School — are in their second year, said Jessica Reinhard, supervisor of advanced programs for Washington County Public Schools.
Some colleges and universities are incorporating the AVID program on campus, including Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md., Reinhard said.
E. Russell Hicks’ AVID program has a partnership with Hagerstown Community College students, said Mark Lysiak, a seventh-grade math teacher and HCC liaison for AVID.
Some education majors in Jenny Stonestreet’s classes at HCC volunteer their time one day a week during the school year for a 45-minute AVID tutorial session, earning them a letter of recommendation and certificate for their portfolios, as well as extra credit from Stonestreet.
AVID students have a 40-minute AVID class each day, in addition to their twice weekly tutorials.
Other county AVID schools usually use volunteer tutors as well, said Reinhard in a phone interview.
“I am absolutely jealous of the AVID program. I wish they had implemented it in my middle school,” said Megan McGaughey, one of the HCC student tutors.
“From the first meeting, they’ve made leaps and bounds already,” she said. “The AVID program has definitely changed the way I look at middle school learning.”
AVID began at E. Russell Hicks last year with selected seventh-grade students. This year the program was expanded to include seventh- and eighth-grade students, with the eighth-graders’ tutorials on Monday and Wednesday and the seventh-graders’ on Tuesday and Thursday.
There are about 25 eighth-grade students and about 20 seventh-graders in the program this year, with a cap on how many students can participate.
Heading for college
Katie Harris, AVID site team coordinator and seventh-grade English language arts and magnet teacher, said the goal is to introduce the program to next year’s incoming sixth-graders, but that will require student recommendations from fifth-grade teachers.
Students must be accepted into the program to participate. The program at E. Russell Hicks is geared for the students who are “middle of the line and get overlooked,” Harris said.
Teachers recommend students who have the potential to be academically successful and who could handle merit classes, but might need a little push, Harris said.
Many of these students would be the first in their families to go to college.
“We call it a class of acceleration. It takes them to the top so they can take AP classes in high school. That’s the goal for them. Their teachers will expect them to exceed expectations,” said Caroline Hawbaker, a sixth-grade science teacher and seventh-grade AVID elective teacher.
Another goal is for AVID students to apply for, get into four-year colleges and universities and be successful there, said Anne Kendall, AVID site team coordinator and eighth-grade English language arts teacher.
“I think they’re excited about it. At first, nobody wants to go first. Now they all jump up. Some talk about being nervous for college. The program helps with self-confidence and leadership roles,” said HCC student tutor Ashlee Renner.
Recommended students must complete an application, then go through an interview process. Once selected, students sign a mini-contract to join the elective program, Reinhard said.
Growing by ‘leaps and bounds’
“They have to want to be in here,” Hawbaker said.
Hawbaker said this is her second year with the AVID program and she’s seen great improvement in her AVID students, who are made aware of their class rankings.
She said Dajuan Williams, one of the eighth-grade students, was not doing his work last year, but has turned that around.
“He’s grown by leaps and bounds. They have to want it,” Hawbaker said.
Dajuan admits he didn’t take school seriously.
“I used to take school for a joke. School was too easy,” he said. “Once I was in AVID, it was like a newsflash, because I was in merit classes.
“I have to study now,” Dajuan said. “My first year in AVID, I went from F’s and C’s to the highest rank in the class.”
He said he now wants to be a pediatrician.
Inclusion in the AVID program does mean additional work for the students.
“Ninety percent of the work is done outside the classroom,” Hawbaker said.
‘Life after here’
AVID classes are the equivalent to merit classes, so most of the AVID students will find a greater challenge in the classes.
“It’s increased rigor from the general classes. They’re bumped up to merit. It’s neat. It’s their first time in higher-level classes,” Harris said
That challenge also comes with the extra support students need to succeed, Lysiak said. The bonus for E. Russell Hicks AVID students is their interaction with HCC students, who serve not only as tutors, but role models for going to college.
“They get to interact with college kids to see there’s life after here. We think these kids are college-capable,” Lysiak said.
A big part of AVID, which was started in 1980 by a teacher, is the focus on note-taking, using the Cornell method, which Reinhard said is the preferred note-taking method of colleges and universities. Schoolwide at E. Russell Hicks, teachers are teaching this method.
Notes taken with the Cornell method are written on a special sheet of note paper divided into two columns so the students can take notes in the right-hand column and jot questions and key words in the left-hand column.
Later, they review their notes, add questions and write a brief summary at the bottom of the page. The process requires students to review their notes two times and provides a good study guide.
Kendall experienced the program at a previous school and pushed for it at E. Russell Hicks. All the AVID teachers involved go to a summer institute to learn how to use the program.
The program ties in with the countywide push for education to be less teacher-driven and more student-driven, with teachers serving more as facilitators, Lysiak said.
Eighth-grader Tori Freed said she wanted to be in the AVID program to help her prepare for college and stay organized.
“I wasn’t turning stuff in on time,” she said, but after joining the program “I went from lower B’s to higher A’s. I just make sure I get it done and not wait until the last minute.”
The colleges at the top of her list to attend include University of Connecticut, University of North Carolina and Duke University.
For tutorials, students must be prepared with a question, called a “point of confusion,” from one of their academic classes, but it can’t be a “yes/no” question or a definition. Tutors work with students in small groups to help them figure out how to answer the question in their small group.
‘Community for learners’
Every other Friday there are binder checks to check students’ organization, ensuring they’ve punched holes in their papers and put them in their binders, that they’re carrying pens, pencils and erasers, highlighters.
“They’re required to have a certain amount of Cornell notes. They’re held responsible for certain things,” Harris said.
In addition to the Cornell notes, the AVID program is driven by the WICOR method, which stands for writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading.
“There’s a focus throughout the building to incorporate those five things in lesson plans,” Lysiak said.
Visits to colleges are designed to open the students’ eyes to the future. Merit and AVID students at E. Russell Hicks go on one to two college visits each school year.
Deron Crawford is in his first year as principal at E. Russell Hicks and this is his first experience with AVID.
“It’s a fantastic program. It’s arming our students with strategies that will serve them well. I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen,” Crawford said.
“It’s truly a community of learners, for sure,” Reinhard said.
More detailed information about the AVID program can be found at www.avid.org.