Benjamin Sell has gotten pretty good at his elevator speech for AVID, a nationwide program implemented at South Albany High School that focuses on college and career readiness.
He begins by explaining the two-prong approach that uses schoolwide initiatives and selected classroom settings before he launches into the stats: graduation rates are up, scholarship awards are up, SAT participation is up. His closing pitch?
Sell is the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) coordinator for Greater Albany Public Schools, and last week he welcomed educators and administrators from around Oregon to see for themselves how the program works during the AVID Showcase held at South Albany High School.
Oregon has two “showcase” AVID high schools. The other is Parkrose High School in Portland.
“They’re people who are thinking about implementing AVID and sites that have AVID but want to come see it done differently,” Sell said. His job on Tuesday was to expand on his sales pitch for the program.
He had a lot of good news to sell.
Before joining AVID in 2014, South Albany High School's graduation rate was at 76.2 percent. The Latino rate was 58.3 percent and only 13.5 percent of eligible students were taking the SAT — a crucial test when applying to four-year colleges.
The turnaround is dramatic:
• South’s graduation rate jumped from 76.2 percent to 89 percent in 2018.
• Among Latinos the rate has soared from 58.3 to 92 percent — the second highest Latino graduation rate in the state.
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• 44 of the seniors in the AVID election classes earned $1.6 million in scholarships last year.
• And, according to Sell, every eligible student took the SAT.
“South had a reputation as the bad school and we got AVID five years ago and it drove a change of perspective and sparked a wave of excellence,” Sell said. “Students began to believe they could achieve at a high level.”
Their belief was fostered by AVID’s two-prong approach.
First, AVID elective classes can start as early as sixth grade. At South Albany High School, first-generation students, students who are identified as having the potential to succeed through testing and those who may not have been able to navigate their way to post-high school education on their own, are given the chance to join an AVID elective. The class focuses on building skills like note-taking and studying; students learn how to use a planner and are held accountable. They go on college visits and have guest speakers.
Second, they remain with the same classmates and their AVID teacher follows them from year-to-year until it culminates in filling out FASFA paperwork (federal student aid) and college applications in class during their senior year.
“Most of the students in elective classes would not have gone to college; some of them would, (but) they would have struggled and figured it out,” said Sell, a first-generation college grad himself. “They get to college and they are so confident, they text us and say, ‘I know so much stuff these kids don’t even know.’”
And that was Sell’s strongest selling point during last week's meeting with prospective AVID educators: the AVID family.
“They’re with the same group of kids all four years, they’re very bonded with them and here at South the teachers stay the same all four years and they come to trust them," he said. "It’s a specific part of the program where they build these bonds of trust. It’s amazing to see the bonds these kids have.”
And getting the word out about AVID is crucial, Sell said.
“It’s a lot of things, and we learned a lot of things when we went to a showcase,” Sell said of the program and why it works. “Don’t let kids off the hook. But that connection, the AVID family, even if we did nothing else, it would make a huge difference.”