AVID may be gone, but its lessons remain

New London - At least some of the college students who served as AVID mentors and tutors for the city's middle and high school students are not going away - despite the elimination of the program in budget cuts.

Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) - a class for students in sixth through 11th grades - fell victim to the current strained budget situation because it would have cost around $221,014 this year to sustain.

AVID, an internationally used program, is aimed at students who have at least a "C" average in their classes and those who would be the first in their families to go to college, said New London interim Assistant Superintendent of Schools Katherine Ericson on Friday.

AVID teachers and volunteers tackle student performance and overall student achievement to prepare youths for college. The program offers role models and fosters positive relationships. In New London, college and school administrators are working to find ways to keep the older role models in the lives of younger students.

Tracee Reiser, associate dean for community learning at Connecticut College, said students there were involved with the middle school before AVID and will continue to be after AVID.

"It's really sad that AVID is ending, because the kids loved it, our kids loved it, all the self-evaluations say that the students had improved their test scores and their grades," Reiser said. "Some of the college students were AVID graduates, so we try to recruit students who have a natural connection to the program."

Reiser said about 20 Connecticut College students who were slated to work in the AVID classes will now work in the math and science lab classes at New London High School. The college will train the students to work in the labs, Reiser said.

Chris Soto, director of New London's College Access Program, said that the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut College and Mitchell College each has a unique opportunity to provide "near peer" mentoring. About 4,000 students attend college in New London, 25 percent more than the number enrolled in the public schools.

"In the past, AVID was haphazardly getting volunteers. What we did was centralize the process of bringing those (college) students in, which was consistent throughout the year. It was great," he said.

"There was no other formal structure in the high school, middle school and elementary schools where we had this happening. We had this one benchmark, and it's now gone. How are we going to replace that?"

Asking questions

AVID started at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in 2007 and moved to the high school in 2010. There were 183 middle and high school students taking an AVID class last year, in five classes at the middle school and four at the high school.

College students trained in AVID used questioning strategies to help students generate their own questions to help answer problems.

Interested students had to apply for a spot in an AVID class and go through a set of interviews with AVID teachers and other school staff. Middle school and high school students who chose to participate were assigned additional homework and class work.

In another program, middle school students visited the college campus two times a week so they could become comfortable with the campus and its libraries and classrooms.

"We're helping them understand what college entails by getting them involved and really exciting them and inspiring them so they can see themselves here at other colleges," Reiser said.

Losing AVID "was one of the harder ones to stomach," Ericson said, reflecting on the budget cuts. "It's on our shoulders to carry forward the ability for kids to get into college and be ready. It has to be our overarching goal for every kid, and that's what's we're working toward."

Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said Wednesday that AVID was cut from the district primarily because of the support costs related to the program. It also required a certain number of teachers to attend training over the summer.

"We couldn't afford it," Fischer said.

The school board had to cut more than $3 million from its 2012-13 budget and recently approved a $39.8 million school budget.

He said the district will continue its relationships with the Coast Guard and the city's colleges.

The more than $200,000 in costs for the AVID program came from two grant sources and Board of Education funds. Fischer also said $43,007 was spent annually on the participation in summer conferences, which are held out of state.

Bennie Dover Jackson Principal Alison Ryan needed to find about $800,000 to cut from the middle school budget. She said this week that cutting AVID was a "difficult decision" but one that would have the least impact on the entire middle school population.

She said that because the school has sent several full-time AVID teachers and about a dozen teachers of other subjects to AVID training in the past, the skills they learned can be taught to other teachers during professional development periods.

"When you reach the ideals of AVID, it becomes schoolwide. It's in everybody's classroom. We're going to take those fundamentals and put them into every class," Ryan said. "Ideally, a good AVID school is one that sees AVID strategies. We still have all the materials the teachers are trained with, and now we're relying on those highly trained teachers to share out what they've learned."

j.hanckel@theday.com

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