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Teachers and administrators who work with South Albany High School’s Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program don’t like to toot their own horn. But on Tuesday, bells, horns and whistles went off after the school earned the designation of being an AVID Demonstration School — the first high school in the state to do so.

“It’s a huge honor and a testament to how we support kids here in the building,” said Benjamin Sell, one of the AVID coordinators for the school.

Three Oregon middle schools have been named demonstration schools and, overall, there are about 100 schools with the distinction nationwide.

To earn the title, South Albany High School had to be recommended to apply by state program coordinators and go through a process of AVID showcases, as well as sort through its data regarding graduation rates and college readiness — two key elements of the AVID program.

“This year we've went through an intensive process of gathering evidence, coaching and feedback with state and national AVID program managers and coaches and teachers opened up their classrooms for observations,” said Angela Spencer, a South Albany High School AVID coordinator. “The most exciting part of this whole process is that it has encouraged us to take a holistic look at our data.”

AVID was implemented at the school in 2014. At the time, the school’s Latino graduation rate was 58% and its overall graduation rate 76%, and there were six advanced placement classes.

In 2018, after four years of AVID classes that teach qualifying students — many often the first in their families to consider college — things like note-taking, studying and accountability, the stats look different. The Latino graduation rate is up to 92% and the overall graduation rate 89%. There are now 11 Advanced Placement classes and the number of students who took AP exams has more than doubled.

The improvements are part of what earned the school the distinction, one that only the top 3% of AVID schools in the nation share. But according to Sell, there was an X factor other than the four categories (leadership, culture, systems and instruction) judges use to rate schools.

“Our evaluator was from Texas and she sees hundreds of schools a year,” he said. “She said we were in her top five.”

Being a demonstration school means that South Albany High School will host events for other schools in Oregon and the nation showcasing the programs and methods it uses to prepare its students for graduation, college and technical education.

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AVID state director Melissa Cole called the distinction an honor but said that while other schools will now officially look to South Albany as a model, unofficially, the school has served as something to aspire to for the last two years.

"It's the only secondary school I have been in where the students engaged and owned their learning," she said. 

There’s no financial gain to the designation, but according to Spencer, the school can receive grants based on its standing with AVID, and Sell said the school could receive early access to curriculum and serve as a teaching lab.

“It’s more than AVID,” he said. “It’s everything from top to bottom, so it was cool to have someone from the outside come in and recognize what we’ve always known.”

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