AVID preps students for college, life

Program targets ‘middle student’ who needs extra support
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The talkative group of students converses for 30 minutes about the book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” with no teacher intervention.

They ask questions, offer their interpretations and challenge each other’s statements.

On days like this when students engage in Socratic Seminars, their teacher Patricia Vallerga hides behind her desktop computer or stands behind the podium in the corner of the classroom.

“I step back and make myself invisible,” Vallerga says. “If I hover over them they keep looking at me for an answer. I don’t want that to happen. I want it to be student led.”

Vallerga teaches the seventh and eighth grade AVID classes at Eich Intermediate School in Roseville.

During a recent seminar, the students discuss symbolism, self-actualization and the benefits — or lack thereof — of being anti-social.

“One disadvantage of being anti-social is you don’t get the support of other people so you have to rely on yourself,” says Jazmyne Browning.

Nate Bumpus disagrees.

“That’s kind of good, though,” he says.

AVID, which stands for advancement via individual determination, is an educational program that attempts to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college and success in a global society.

About 4,500 schools nationwide offer this elective, including Eich Intermediate School, Buljan Middle School and Cooley Middle School in the Roseville City School District.

This college-preparation program is not for at-risk kids.

“Mostly what we’re looking for is what we call the ‘middle student,’” says Nicole Haynes, who teaches AVID at Oakmont High School.

This may be the child of a single-parent household, the first teenager in a family who plans to attend college, a member of an underserved subgroup on campus or a student who needs additional support.

“We see a student who works hard but is not reaching that maximum level of potential,” Vallerga says.

College mindset

The walls of Vallerga’s classrooms are lined with flags from more than 60 colleges and universities. There are display boards with information about colleges — tuition, housing, academics, amenities and extra-curricular activities. Throughout the year, students take field trips to Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, San Jose State University and other campuses.

“(AVID) is a philosophy and program to get students into the mindset that ‘college will be in my future,’ not ‘may be,’” Vallerga says.

The 54 students in her two classes learn soft skills, such as classroom etiquette, filling out a planner, goal setting, time management and note taking. The program also helps them identify personal academic strengths and weaknesses.

“Last year, I’d do really good on tests but wouldn’t do my homework,” says eighth grader Dalissa Alanis. “AVID taught me how to be a student and have the motivation and now I have A’s in all my classes.”

During Socratic Seminars, students engage in higher-level questioning and critical thinking. The goal is to get students to move beyond the “‘duh’ level of thinking,” as Vallerga says. They are encouraged to think for themselves and confidently express their ideas.

‘Most powerful part’

On a recent morning in Haynes’ 10th grade AVID class at Oakmont High School, students discuss how they spend their days.

“We try to get them to be reflective and evaluate their habits and time management,” Haynes says.

Sophomore Christian Smith tells the class how he used to do his homework after exercising at the gym. But this made him tired and unfocused. Now going to the gym is an incentive for finishing his homework.

Oakmont offers two AVID classes for freshmen, one for sophomores, and a fall course for juniors and seniors. The program has been at Oakmont for about a decade. They get about 20 AVID students from Eich Intermediate School every year and recruit the rest.

Freshman Taylor Helmes says the program is preparing her for college.

“It’s helped me a lot,” Helmes says. “I struggle with math. With tutorials, if I have trouble, I can ask and it helps me out.”

During tutorials, each student talks about something they have a question about in one of their other classes.

“The job of the group is not to answer the question but to pose questions to see if they can help figure out an answer,” says teacher Michelle John. “The whole goal is helping them get to the answers themselves. Tutorials are my favorite thing. I think it is the most powerful part of AVID.”

Haynes says that AVID students’ “a-g” course completion rate — required for entrance into the California State University and University of California system — is higher than the rest of the school. The goal is to get 100 percent of the program’s students accepted to college.

“I think the environment AVID creates is really important,” says Browning, an eighth grader at Eich Intermediate School. “Having peers with similar academic goals is really vital to being a good student.”

Sena Christian can be reached at