By Rebecca Schmitz
Crozet Elementary is the first elementary school in Albemarle County to institute Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a program that teaches students research-based learning strategies designed to help them succeed throughout their academic career and beyond. All fifth graders at Crozet will be taught using AVID methods; and there is a possibility that the program will eventually be instituted schoolwide.
Principal Gwedette Crummie says that in addition to teaching students proven techniques for studying and learning, it also helps to instill a new mindset in students who lack confidence. “It’s getting students college-ready—especially students who may be the first in their families to go to college. The whole purpose of it is to teach students to be self-determined. It’s teaching them they can do anything—either go to college or straight to a career. We want them to be confident in what they can do.”
In order to help instill this confidence, for example, fifth graders embarked on a research project at the beginning of the school year to identify what their futures could look like.
“We started our year focusing on our hopes and dreams. We used our hopes and dreams as a guide to how can we work this year to support those goals,” said fifth grade teacher Brandy Garbaccio. “We also talked about how the future won’t look the same for every person. We talked about trade schools. We talked about college. We talked about having a skill you want to enhance. That’s what we’re focusing on, so they have some sort of vision of a possibility. They can see that there are options for them, they all don’t have to follow that same cookie cutter path.”
Students researched colleges or trade schools they might want to attend someday, and created pennants to reflect their choices. The pennants are displayed on a bulletin board in the hallway with the heading “Where Will Our Hopes and Dreams Take Us?” Each pennant has three facts about the student’s chosen school and a representation of their mascot.
Cal Hughes has always liked robotics, so he narrowed his search to schools that had strong robotics programs. He came up with Carnegie Mellon University, because “They have the best robotics program out of any university in the world.” He notes on his pennant that Google and Pixar both recruit students from CMU. He loves technology and is adept at anything to do with computers, and he enjoyed the pennant assignment because “it showed everybody what we wanted to do and where we might be going to college, and why we chose it. It was pretty fun, even though it took me a pretty long time to draw the logo!” Cal plans to learn more about robotics when he gets to Henley, and then later at Western.
Asha Snyder, who hopes to be a famous TV actor while in her 20s and then switch to teaching in her 30s, chose Yale because she knew it was a good school. She said the most challenging part of the project was figuring out what she wanted her future to look like. “We had to search colleges that would be good for what we want to do when we grow up.” Her bright blue pennant features an impressive rendering of Yale’s mascot, a bulldog named “Handsome Dan.”
Another part of AVID’s mission is to hold all students accountable to high standards. Nationwide, 64 percent of the secondary education students (grades 9-12) enrolled in the program are identified as “low income.” It has proven to be effective at closing the education gap and reaching traditionally underserved students. In 2015, 92 percent of AVID students reported plans to attend either a 4-year college (61 percent) or two-year college (31 percent). AVID is used by schools in 44 states.
Rather than focusing on what students learn, the program focuses on how they learn. Garbaccio said it teaches students academic strategies to prepare them for success in school and beyond. “With AVID, everything is routine, routine, routine. It teaches new ways of note taking and organizational skills that become immediate.” Each student has the same planner organized in the same way, and Garbaccio said that “Our planners are key to our communication with our families and communication with the teacher. It places the ball in the students’ court and instills responsibility, so it’s not on the parents to be on top of their students all the time. This is about accountability. It’s about promoting each student and building their confidence.”
AVID programs already exist at Henley Middle School and Western Albemarle High School, along with the other middle schools and high schools in the county, and Crummie hopes that by implementing AVID at the elementary level, fifth graders will have a more seamless transition to Henley and be prepared to enroll in the AVID program once there. “AVID came to my attention through the county. It started at the high school and it trickled down to the middle schools.”
She began to envision using AVID at the elementary school, and along with a few other principals, she toured Jack Jouett middle school and witnessed AVID “in action” and talked to students. “The kids were really academically successful—and not just academically, but in terms of confidence too.”
Crummie spent two years saving up professional development funds so that she and the three teachers who make up the fifth grade team could attend training at the AVID national conference in Philadelphia this summer. The only cost for implementing the program was attending the training. Teachers left with online and other resources that enabled them to get started.
Fifth grade teacher Betsy Agee has seen the program succeed: “My previous experience with AVID at the secondary level is it gave students tools and confidence to consider themselves college-bound when that typically wouldn’t have been the case. Our AVID elementary program is so much more to all of our students. It’s supporting them to think critically, write to learn, and organize their materials to give them the best possible chances for success. I’ve seen students go to college and struggle because they had the work ethic but not the academic background. I’ve also seen gifted-identified students go to college consistently out-performing their peers but fall apart when they met a challenge that required independent, self-determined learning. Our fifth graders will leave us this year better prepared to collaborate, communicate, critically analyze, and create in the real world.”
Crummie believes that fifth grade is the ideal grade to pilot the program, because transitioning to middle school can be difficult for many students. “When they go to middle school as a sixth-grader, they can say ‘I’m ready to take this challenge on. I’m going to fail sometimes, and I might not always be at my best, but I’m going to learn from it and move forward because my goal is to go this college, or go to a technical school.’ They have something to work for. They come with skills. They’re going to know how to take those notes. They’re going to know how to be organized. It’s sticking—it’s not something that fades away. They’re not going to forget. We’re in the initial stages, but I see it already, the kids are retaining what they learn.”
“I hope a large number of students who have this exposure at the elementary level will say yes, I want to be in the AVID program at Henley,” she added. “Our goal is that Henley’s program will become even more robust.”
Crummie believes the entire fifth grade will benefit from AVID: “It helps all students, including the students who are already doing well. A lot of students who are high achievers do not have confidence. These strategies pull it all together. AVID levels the playing field. These are the best research-based teaching strategies to help students be self-determined. It allows them to achieve success in their personal life and academic life.”
Fifth-grade teacher Justin Stauffer has seen the results already: “I am absolutely in love with this program. It is helping our students become better thinkers and learners, helping them to be more responsible and determined for themselves and their schoolwork. It is also teaching them how to be better organized and prepared for school and life. This program is going to help our students get that edge that is needed to be a successful student.”