Class helps kids 'learn how to learn'

AVID student Brittani Bible works with her classmates on an advanced math assignment Tuesday at Olympia High School.
AVID student Brittani Bible works with her classmates on an advanced math assignment Tuesday at Olympia High School. The Olympian

Most high schools offer programs for students on both ends of the academic spectrum - the ones who are in need of a challenge, and the ones who require extra support.

But what about the teens in between – students with a 2.5 or 3.0 grade-point average, who don’t belong in remedial English but might struggle in an honors literature class?

Olympia High School launched a program this year designed for that demographic. The Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, is a one-hour daily elective class that offers small-group tutoring and lessons in time management, critical thinking and other survival skills needed in honors-level courses.

“We consider it a college prep course,” said teacher Kristen Soderberg. “We are teaching students the skills they need to be college-ready.”

The program currently serves 26 ninth-graders who have the opportunity to continue with AVID until they graduate. The program is expected to expand substantially by 2014 because each year, a new class of freshmen can enter the four-year program.

Besides helping support students in the academic middle, AVID was created to level the playing field for students who live in poverty, are minorities or face some type of obstacle that might make college an impossible dream.

“Most of them are the first in their family who will go to college, and that’s where they need that additional support,” Soderberg said. “They have the drive and motivation; they just need the support to get them there.”

This year, the students have studied organizational skills such as how to take notes, keep track of assignments and identify personal goals. As sophomores, they will work on reading and writing strategies for Advanced Placement courses and college-admission exams. And by their junior and senior years, the program will shift to working on college applications, scholarship essays and financial aid applications, Soderberg said.

“It’s mostly just to help you learn the skills that will help you succeed after high school,” said freshman Connor Fardell, 14.

AVID has been adopted in nearly 4,500 schools nationally and internationally.

Timberline High School in Lacey plans to begin an AVID program next year, according to Troy Oliver, executive director of Secondary Education for North Thurston Public Schools. The program likely will be offered at River Ridge and North Thurston high schools in subsequent years, he said.

As part of the AVID course, students are required to take Cornell-style notes in other classes, maintain homework binders and perform weekly grade checks using the school’s Skyward computer system. They also work on their schoolwork with tutors from AmeriCorps and a work-study program at The Evergreen State College.

“It helps you because you can get all of your questions answered in class,” said freshman Kelsey Eagan, 15. “It basically helps you learn how to learn.”

Olympia High principal Matt Grant said the program will help close the achievement gap and sends a “we believe in you” message to all students at the school.

“We are now tapping into student potential like never before by giving students the tools and emotional support for thriving in a rigorous environment,” he said.