For the 24 students in Christopher Howard’s new elective course, Advancement via Individual Determination, fourth period at Anniston High School is a study in leadership, organization, positivity and expectation.
“It pushes us to be leaders and to help our peers,” said ninth-grader Quiyaun Harrison. “I expect great things out of the class. I expect to get farther and just be a leader.”
Harrison had just demonstrated to his classmates — all freshmen — how to introduce himself to an adult, with a handshake and tucked-in shirt.
In addition to study skills and academic support, Harrison said that in the week he’s been in class, he and his classmates are already learning how to carry themselves in life. He and his classmate, Darrington Howard, said they practice greeting each other in class and with adults and other students in the lunchroom and hallways.
Principal Sherron Jinadu said the goal of the program, called AVID, is to target those students whose teachers believe have unmet potential. Most have grade-point averages of 2.5 to 3.0, and many could become first-generation college students.
The students are pushed to pursue rigorous coursework. Each student must take a pre-Advanced Placement class, something Jinadu said the students may not have considered doing otherwise.
With the increased expectations for students come increased supports. Christopher Howard keeps tabs on his students’ binders, an organizational tool to help students keep track of their notes and work. Each Tuesday and Thursday in his class, a group of Jacksonville State University students will tutor students with any trouble areas they are having in their academic classes.
Howard has already begun teaching note-taking methods and will eventually move on to Socratic seminars, in which students will learn to discuss questions.
These first 24 AVID students will move as a cohort through the next four years, with a new teacher each year to guide them through the program. Christopher Howard will pick up a new crop of freshmen next year, until four years from now, approximately 100 AVID students will walk Anniston High’s halls.
AVID has been implemented in more than 4,900 schools since a California teacher developed the approach to help inner-city students succeed at her elite suburban high school more than 30 years ago.
Liz Morse, communications director with AVID, said interest in the program has grown exponentially over the course of those decades as more people hear of the success schools are seeing. Morse said the program teaches life skills to prepare students for college or careers after high school. But college is AVID’s focus, she said, because they want students to have the option of college when it comes time to apply. According to data on AVID’s website, 90 percent of the more than 33,000 high school seniors enrolled in AVID for the 2011-12 school year applied to a four-year college, and 76 percent were accepted.
Jinadu said the program will work as part of a whole with the Freshmen Academy, a program now in its fifth year that focuses on getting ninth graders to identify with their cohort and graduation year. Local educators hope that by doing so the students will be more likely to complete high school in four years. Last year’s four-year graduation rate was up by seven percentage points, to 65 from 58. The state has not yet released this year’s rate. Programs like AVID and Freshman Academy, combined with greater accountability for students who transfer out of Anniston, she said, should help raise that number. Meanwhile, 90 percent of the students who began last year as seniors graduated, she said.
Jinadu said school officials are working with the Public Education Foundation of Anniston to secure motivational speakers for the students, and the Anniston Community Education Foundation has awarded the program a grant to purchase T-shirts for each of the students and to fund their first college field trip, to Alabama State University next month.
Although the students come from different backgrounds, Bell said, AVID creates a “family atmosphere that regardless of where they’re coming from, their goals are the same, and that’s college,” she said.
Bell said the students will be immersed in the terminology of college campuses and procedures such as financial aid and admissions.
“They’re going to get flooded with so much information about college, as well as taking college tours, that by the time they hit 12th grade, they’ll know where I’m going, what I want to major in, and all that,” Bell said.
School officials hope the continued focus will have students thinking about what they want to do after high school.
“It’s going to help us work on how we’re going to get to college and help us see how far we can go,” Darrington Howard said of her expectations for the year. “It pushes us to not just do our best, but to do better than we know we can do.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.