A look into AVID

A four-year course. A family for a lifetime.

In the TPHS Advancement Via Individual Determination program, students from underrepresented communities garner writing, collaboration, organization and reading skills as early as freshman year. Founded by Mary Catherine Swanson at San Diego’s Clairemont High School in 1980, the AVID program has since evolved beyond San Diego and, according to AVID’s website, reaches more than two million students K-12 nationwide. At TPHS, three classes make up this four-year program — Sarah Strock’s AVID 9, Colin Cornforth’s AVID 10 and Rosa Velazquez’s AVID 11/12.

The sequence begins with developing skills in organization, time-management, communication and comprehension with the help of tutorials and learning logs. As upperclassmen, students focus on college preparation.

“[AVID] helps me stay organized,” Dulce Gastelum (11), an AVID student of 3 years, said. “Because high school is very stressful, and at times you don’t know where your stuff is or when your next test is coming up, it’s nice to have extra help and teachers reminding us to write in our agendas; having guidance [has] really pushed me to stay organized.”

Karen Bautista (9), a student in her first year of AVID, agreed that the extra guidance is helpful.

“My public speaking skills [have improved]. We do a lot of activities [which] really help,” Bautista said. “Also my writing — we do a lot of stuff that involves expanding on our writing.”

Trevin Henry (12), a third-year AVID student, said the college preparation component of his final year in the program was helpful.

“In [AVID 12], we complete things for the FAFSA (college financial aid source) together so we can just get it over with, and it helps a lot to just know I’m getting ahead of things. The same goes for [English language proficiency] questions and submitting applications in the first place,” Henry said. Not only do these students have opportunities to excel academically thanks to AVID, but they are given opportunities to seek out colleges through the course curriculum, even as underclassmen. Since the program’s focus relies heavily on gaining skills and knowledge to prepare for a two- or four-year college, AVID incorporates an annual college trip, through which students can see institutions across California and visit AVID alumni.

This year, Cornforth and Velazquez took students to see the University of California Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco.

“I went this year, and it was really fun,” Gastelum said. “I got to see what college students would do at places like libraries and how they would walk around campus and not look stressed. It was very cool to see the difference between a high school and a college campus.”

Since students in all grades are allowed to participate in college visits, Bautista also enjoyed her time seeing the college campuses during her first year in the AVID program.

“It was really fun because I got to connect with other people that are also in the AVID program, but in different grades,” Bautista said. “It was just a great experience to come together and [learn] more about college.”

In addition to connecting all students to their future options, the AVID program targets first generation college students.

“As a first generation student who knew nothing about college, [being in AVID] really did help me a lot in gaining financial literacy and learning more about college and what opportunities I had,” Kyra Dominguez (12), the AVID student president, said. “I honestly do not know where I’d be if it weren’t for AVID. I probably wouldn’t even be applying to colleges.”

With the help of the program, Dominguez has applied to several colleges, including UCs and CSUs, and Stanford University.

From a teacher’s perspective, Cornforth noticed the bonding between students on the college trip. “Juniors, freshmen, sophomores and seniors all go together, so I think there’s a lot of cross-class collaboration, communication and connection, which is great,” Cornforth said.

Velazquez too acknowledged the benefits of participating in the college trips.

“If [the students] go every year, at the end of four years,

they’ve gone to around 40 different colleges, which is a lot because these students might not have the same opportunity with their families,” Velazquez said.

Although the time spent in high school and on college trips is fleeting, the bonds forged remain for a lifetime.

“I remember joining the AVID program my sophomore year at Torrey, and I’ve stuck with the same people since then — we all know each other pretty well,” Henry said. “There are times we break off into our own little friend groups, but you always hang around the same bunch; the AVID team is very strong.”

Gastelum also has fond memories of meeting people during her first year in AVID 9.

“I met some of my best friends in [AVID], so I’m really grateful I took this course,” Gastelum said.

Even the AVID teachers feel a strong connection to the program. Velazquez, who has taught the course for around 10 consecutive years, was an AVID student in high school. Cornforth, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2004, taught AVID early in his teaching career.

“I started out as a college graduate just working with four, maybe six, students. A lot of these kids went off to college, first generation kids,” Cornforth said. “But while I’ve taught, I’ve seen many kids benefit from the support that AVID provides to go to either local [colleges] or [colleges] across the country … places they wouldn’t have even thought about or have gotten into without the proper support.”

As a student leader in the program, Dominguez wants to bring the opportunities of AVID to more students

“I was the first one in my family to really be helped, and I want that feeling to also be conveyed for other students because everyone deserves these opportunities; everyone deserves education,” Dominguez said.

That feeling is shared among many participants.

“You have to think about your future,” Gastelum said. “You can’t figure out everything by yourself. That’s what your peers are for; that’s what AVID is for.”

Photos by Hope Dennis/Falconer

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