Philomath's AVID program

Philomath sixth-grader Terra Thomson makes an entry in her planner Thursday morning at the middle school. Local educators are seeing results with the AVID program's methods of teaching organizational skills.

Philomath's fifth- and sixth-graders are getting organized.

The Philomath School District introduced the AVID program at those grade levels this fall with hopes that students will learn the organizational skills needed to overcome barriers to find success beyond high school.

Midway through this academic year, AVID — Achievement Via Individual Determination — appears to be a success with teachers and students.

"Yeah, I'm definitely seeing growth in my kids," fifth-grade teacher Samantha Wood said. "There's a better understanding for students to know what they're responsible for this year. And I think there is more ownership with the work they are doing."

AVID is a global nonprofit organization that according to its website, operates under one guiding principle: "Hold students accountable to the highest standards, provide academic and social support, and they will rise to the challenge."

Several other school districts around Oregon utilize AVID, including nearby Corvallis, Albany and Lebanon.

Although there are many facets to AVID, the primary instructional focus this school year covers the area of student organization. This involves organizing notebooks and assignments, learning to organize notes and thoughts, and learning through the method of two- and three-column notes.

"I've seen a lot less messes inside desks this year as I have in the past," said fifth-grade teacher Tony Thompson, who is in his 11th year of full-time teaching in the Philomath School District. "When kids come to the fifth grade, you'd think they would know how to put an organizer in a binder ... you put this page in first and then this page. A lot of them don't. Using AVID strategies, it teaches everything we want them to learn."

Thompson said AVID is designed to close the gaps between students who are on the verge of being able to go to college but they just need that extra push.

"There are some kids where it's already set in their plan that they're going to college, it's taken care of, it's going to happen," he said. "And there are other kids who are facing circumstances that could prevent them from doing that. AVID teaches strategies for those kids and closes the gap."

AVID will spread beyond the fifth and sixth grades in the future. The superintendent's annual goals, which were shared with the school board in May, showed plans to deploy AVID at the high school level in 2018-19.

Middle-school teacher Brian Skaar said he's all in on the AVID approach and he sees peers helping each other along.

"The kids are just sort of saying, 'this is who we are now' and they can find their papers, they can have conversations with their parents," Skaar said. "There's no question about where they're supposed to be. It's a system for work in and work out and it's been quite effective."

Skaar said the standardized system has brought teachers and students together. As time goes by, the effort will move into other areas, such as some of the reading strategies that were brought in through AVID training materials.

From an administrator's point of view, middle school principal Steve Bell also sees teachers on the same page.

"The most exciting thing is seeing them work together on what is working in class and what is not, and then they change and tweak what they do," Bell said.

For example, teachers arrived at a conclusion on details involving the binders.

"The things that they wanted to be very clear on is what was acceptable and not acceptable and where they could allow for differences," Bell said. "That was really good to see, them working together that way."

Another example Bell shared involved an instruction strategy called a "one-pager," which is a single-page response that shows a student's understanding of a piece of text they had read. Two teachers put the strategy in use and worked with other teachers on it.

"Seeing them work together in a small group and then leading the whole staff as colleagues is good," Bell said. "It's just great learning practice for the teaching staff."

Besides the binders and planners, Wood's fifth-grade students also use various methods to show how they are learning, including the creation of posters to illustrate ways that they work on things.

"AVID's a great way to get students excited about their learning and makes them accountable to their own learning," she said.

Local educators went to an AVID conference before this school year in Denver and Anaheim, California.

"They're all on board now and even when they went (to the conference), I think people were on board but there's always skepticism," Bell said. "I had a few teachers that had information from other teacher friends in other communities that had feedback."

The district's investment in AVID training came at a cost of $23,988 to send educators to the conferences, according to a September memo to the school board from business manager Bill Mancuso.

Thompson admits he was skeptical at first about AVID before going through training last summer in Denver.

"After going through the conference and I saw and experienced it myself, going through all these strategies and participating, I thought, 'this is cool,'" Thompson said. "I can see kids being more engaged using these strategies. I can see them understanding things better because of the explicit way that we're teaching it and that leads to confidence and success. Right now, I love it."

The strategies seen through AVID are nothing really new to a veteran teacher like Skaar. He learned the same type of approaches back in the early 1980s and said now they have basically been named and standardized.

"The thing that's been wonderful is it's given this guidance and common language," he said. "Between the people support and the technology support and the book and training that we got, that's been pretty good; it's the whole package."

High school graduates have options for a postsecondary education beyond the traditional college route. There are also trade schools, apprenticeships and so on. Those students benefit from AVID as well.

"My brother-in-law is a cabinet maker and welder's son and he didn't have the organization skills," Skaar said. "It wasn't the building of a cabinet, but the organization of people. Two sections (of AVID) are collaboration and people skills and organization, so it's really right for kids who are going into training or jobs' programs or into college. It'll work for everybody."

Wood believes AVID provides the pieces to help students grow.

"This will help your learning and make you successful," she said. "So yes, I definitely see that could apply to a lot of our students here in Philomath."

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