A host of different factors can get in the way of academic success.
It's not simply a matter of attending every class and completing every homework assignment. Roadblocks can run a lot deeper, as Rodina Mohamed discovered when she was a student at Prairie Middle School. For Mohamed, now a senior at Overland High School, it was her status as an introverted sixth-grader that posed one of the biggest potential challenges to finding her full potential in class and beyond.
"I felt like my problem personally was communicating with my teachers and asking questions," said Mohamed, who has spent her entire academic career in the Cherry Creek School District. "In middle school, I used to be shy and think that I should figure it out for myself."
Enrolling in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) elective program made an immediate difference for Mohamed. In addition to the early lessons about organization, note taking and effective study habits, the shy sixth-grader learned about the value of opening up.
"AVID helped me realize that if you need help, go to the teacher and communicate with them," she said, adding that those lessons were the first in a valuable instruction path that lead directly to higher education. As she progresses through her final year in high school, Mohamed is considering seven different colleges, a list that includes prestigious institutions like Boston University, Howard University and Syracuse University. "It's a college readiness program. It helped with organization and grades and figuring out a future."
Mohamed's story encapsulates the heart of the AVID program in the Cherry Creek School District. Developed by Mary Cathrine Swanson in 1980 in San Diego, the AVID program started as a way to provide access to higher education to all students, specifically those traditionally underrepresented at the college level. That core mission came to the Cherry Creek School District in 1996, when the district adopted the AVID curriculum in several schools.
Since then, AVID has become a valuable resource for students across the district. Every middle and high school in Cherry Creek now offers the program. What's more, Eaglecrest High School, Smoky Hill High School, Horizon Community Middle School, Laredo Middle School, Prairie Middle School and Thunder Ridge Middle School have all boasted the official status of National Demonstration Schools, an official title that recognizes outstanding AVID sites.
The popularity of AVID across the district speaks to its inherent value. With its focus on essential academic skills like note-taking, effective study habits and organization, the program has offered students on the brink additional tools to make the transition to college.
"We look for students who are inspired by education, self-motivated. They are students who have had some success in school, but who have not reached their full capacity," said Sandy Mason, District AVID Coordinator who works out of the Office of Inclusive Excellence "They are also students who bring self-discipline to the program."
The search for those students starts early, Mason said. Finding candidates who meet a specific criteria – standards that include test scores, mobility, classroom behavior, status as a group traditionally underrepresented at the college level and socio-economic status – is a process that can begin in elementary school.
"Our students are recruited out of either fifth grade, or many of our middle schools now select students at the sixth grade level," Those students are recommended by teachers, sometimes it's requested by parents, many times they are students who profile themselves and say, 'I want to be in AVID.'"
Commitment and self-motivation are standards that remain constant through the electives in middle and high school. It's a key factor for students working to overcome significant life challenges outside of the school building, and it's a quality that makes all the difference for participants. The curriculum focuses on writing-to-learn, inquiry, collaboration and reading for comprehension, and AVID tutors who stress the importance of Socratic dialogue are available for all students in the program. Two scholarships worth $2,500 are also available through the program every year.
It all adds up to instilling a sense of purpose, direction and self-esteem in a sizable student population.
"The more I teach juniors and seniors and the more I see where they're going and where they've been, the I can see how much of an impact it's made in their lives," said Terry Miller, an AVID teacher at Cherokee Trail High School. "I can tell you that AVID is a family. When they come in to my classroom, they may bring all kinds of baggage … But by the time they're seniors, they realize they're all in this together. One kid's success in the classroom is all of their successes."
The effect has been powerful in the Cherry Creek School District. Indeed, since its implementation in 1996, AVID has become a district institution praised by leaders at the highest levels.
"I love AVID, I really do," Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull told a recent meeting of AVID teachers and personnel. "I think that what you do for our kids and what you do in the context of our overarching goals about all children is probably some of the most significant work that we do … In Cherry Creek, when we talk about all students, we really have to deliver on that commitment to all students. That's part of what you do every day."
Donovan Simon, a senior at Overland who has taken AVID classes with his peer Rodina Mohamed since middle school, has seen that commitment firsthand. A football and lacrosse player with eventual goals of majoring in marketing and becoming a sports agent, Simon can summarize exactly what the program has given him in the past six years.
"You're expected to be a leader in the classroom," Simon said. "When you're in AVID, they push you. They don't accept you failing any class. You can't have bad grades. You're held to a higher standard. It pushes you to keep on top of everything that you do."