Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
By Christina Stock
According to the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy, 20% of New Mexicans age 16 and older have the lowest literacy skills possible at level 1 on a scale of 1 to 5. People at that low level can’t read basic instructions, write a short message to family or even read a road sign. Level 2 counts for 46% of New Mexico’s population. This is a huge handicap because according to a study in 2002 by the Milken Institute, 64% of jobs require literacy skills beyond level 2, while only 12% require skills at level 1.
Mesa Middle School is one of 100 schools in New Mexico who use the Reading Plus program. In an email, Rep. Valerie King sent in a certification of excellence, the Reading Plus Super Star School certificate, for the academic year 2019-20 to Mesa Middle School for its 210 students who completed 13,545 reading lessons totaling 16 million words. “Your school is in the Top 10 of all schools in our state for having most reading lessons completed,” King wrote.
Mesa Middle School Principal Marcos Franco attributes this success to a different program called AVID, which stands for Achievement Via Individual Determination. In a Zoom interview, he said, “The program started with a teacher in San Diego, California. Basically it’s bridging the gaps in education for the lower socioeconomic demographic students, to catch them up to their peers. That was the intent of the program, after that, it blew up first in California and later throughout the states to where now it is available in several different countries.
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“New Mexico has had the AVID program, but mainly up north in the Albuquerque area,” Franco said. “We are the first school district in Southeast New Mexico to bring AVID down here, and it was actually a program that we were looking at getting, but the cost is more geared toward districts and not individual schools so that did not allow us to get it initially. Our school district started talking about going districtwide with it through a grant and then later on just rolling with it. As far as our school goes, we’ve seen a lot of progress and in how it has affected our students. When I came over to Mesa last year, one of the biggest things was to change culture, the perception of what Mesa represents. Part of that was through the AVID program that we have. Looking at what we’ve accomplished probably far exceeded my goals. We weren’t notified until early fall if we were certified as an AVID school, but we exceeded our goal.”
According to the AVID website, the program started in 1980 with English department head and teacher Mary Catherine Swanson, who believed that students attending Clairemont High School from disadvantaged areas could be taught skills needed to be college-ready. Her system grew and was granted funds first for San Diego County in 1986, expanding to a summer institute in 1989. A milestone happened in 1991 when Swanson won the $50,000 Dana Award Pioneering Achievement in Education, the only public school teacher ever so honored. The award brought national recognition and growth for AVID.
Today, AVID is implemented in more than 7,000 schools in 47 states across the U.S., plus schools in Department of Defense Education, Canada and Australia. AVID impacts more than 2 million students in grades K-12 and 62 post-secondary institutions.
According to records from National Student Clearinghouse between the years 2016-18, first-generation, low-income AVID alumni students are four times more likely to graduate than their national peers and of these 42% college students graduate college with a four-year degree within six years.
In the school year 2018-19, according to AVID senior data collection, in New Mexico 97% of AVID seniors completed the four-year college entrance requirement; 99% graduated from high school with an average of 3.2 GPA, 100% applied to a four-year college, 78% were accepted to a four-year college.
Asked how many students participated in this first year’s program, Franco said, “Generally they have between 13% and 15% of the student population. We are about at 13% and we have about 150 students right now in the program.”
Joining in the Zoom meeting was Mesa Middle School AVID coordinator and teacher Melanie Estrada. She explains the program as more of learning life skills and “best practices.”
“What we do in the AVID classroom is we teach students how to take notes; how to manage their time; how to incorporate life-learning skills that can be crossed over into not only the academics but their life, their purpose for anything they want to do in the future. It’s not necessarily always a college career readiness — it’s actually an after high school readiness. So if they go straight to work, they still need to know how to take notes; they still need to know how to manage their time. One of the most important things is how to have relation capacity with other people, and how to work with other people. We do something once a week, either it’s a ‘Wild Wednesday’ or a ‘Fun Friday’ where they have to work with one and another — that’s what you have to do in the real world, to learn how to get along with each other, so that’s part of it,” Estrada said.
Another unusual aspect is what Estrada calls tutoring. “We do that twice a week and the students have to do the tutorial work, something they are struggling with, before they come (to class),” she said. “The teacher monitors the situation and the student goes to the whiteboard and the kids are asking him questions to walk them through on how to solve a problem. It’s not tutoring in the sense where students are sitting one on one and they are telling them how to do it; the students that are on the outside looking in are actually questioning them, making them have to question, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Kind of to make sure that they thoroughly understand the problem and how to understand it.
“Also, when they join AVID they know they are part of the AVID family because like Mr. Franco said, it’s not only in Roswell, New Mexico, it’s statewide, nationwide and it’s all over the countries, so when they go to a college somewhere, they can meet with other AVID peers and say, ‘Hey, let’s do study groups.’ They know and understand what AVID adds to their lives,” Estrada said.
This “rite of passage” as Franco describes the participation in the program comes with goals that the students physically can touch: The students receive shirts that have the number of their future graduation year on the back. “It is a commitment that they take upon themselves, to graduate and that’s one of the steps through school. AVID is a program that starts as early as elementary school and moves all the way through high school and college, as well. But the skills that they learn are lifelong skills, just like Ms. Estrada has highlighted and some of the skillsets you need to function in any job,” Franco said.
Two Mesa Middle School senior students joined the Zoom meeting to share their experiences. Evelyn Garcia is 11 years old, her shirt reads “Class of ‘26.” She said, “What I like about it (AVID), it teaches you how to get ready for college. I think it’s pretty easy, you just need to pay attention and do the things.”
Asked what her future plans are, Evelyn said, “I want to be an engineer for NASA. Just because I like NASA, and space and I like robotics and how to build stuff.”
Andres Enriquez is also a future “Class of ‘26.” Asked what he enjoys most in the program, he said, “The team-working aspect, that you have to get along and work as a team, work through the problems. It’s fun to get along with each other and if there is a problem, to solve it.”
Andres plans are to become an architect and to work in some of the larger cities.
Asked how parents can sign their children up for the program, Estrada said, “We have an online application and so they go online and answer some questions. After we receive the application, the students actually have to complete an interview (with an AVID site team). During the interview process, we ask them what are their goals? What can they bring into AVID and how do they think AVID can help them? This is a selective program. The kids that are selected, they have to maintain a 2.0 to 3.5 GPA, it is required that they take one honors course, even when they get into high school, you have to take one AP class because you have to challenge yourself. They have to understand that that is a commitment that they have to make.”
While city, county and state are talking about budget cuts due to the pandemic, the AVID program for Mesa Middle School is secure for this year at least. “We’re paid for,” Franco said. “Whatever happens beyond that, we have to take into consideration that there is a possibility that this is a program (that may be) cut, but where I would caution any administrators, especially on the district level, is that this program works. And it’s not just another trend, it is something we need for our kids.”
Estrada invites interested parties to visit and see for themselves how the program works, as soon as school is back to normal. “I encourage everybody to come and walk through. Everybody who ever came through, my students will tell we’ve had a lot of visitors, to see what it’s all about. You have to come in to feel the family atmosphere, so you can feel the energy the kids are giving off. One of the administrators told me when they had a bad day, to get rejuvenated just to go in my classroom because of the energy and excitement of the kids. It was uplifting because you were able to see teaching going on. When you ask Evelyn and Andres, one of the things I am always encouraging: You can be what you want to be, that’s the most important thing. When they leave my classroom, they feel like they are the smartest, most capable students in the entire school,” Estrada said.
“Every student you will talk to, they will mention college or a career that they are already focused on and we don’t do that enough,” Franco said. “With this program, the way it’s set up, it helps these students think about that now, versus senior year when they still don’t know. For this next school year, all middle schools will have the AVID program and also Goddard and University (high schools) will have this program. We’ll certainly have students move on to AVID high school programs already prepared to take on high school, which freshman year is statistically the hardest year where we see the most failures in New Mexico.”
Franco, Estrada and some of the older students had been invited to Santa Fe to speak on behalf of the program in January. “One of the senators proposed a bill to fund AVID programs throughout the state,” Franco said. “As a new AVID program, the state coordinator loved what she was seeing and invited us to the Roundhouse to speak on behalf of AVID with a couple of other schools that participated, and we took about 40 students up to the Roundhouse and spoke, and we had two student speakers that were able to speak as well in defense of what AVID had done. Unfortunately, this bill died. They are looking at it to do it again for next year, but at the state of economy, who knows if it will even be considered, but I hope it does. If not, we’ll be seeking funding for the district to fund the AVID program. I know Roswell loves to invest money in winners and this one I know, it will sustain itself year after year.”
For more information, visit mms.risd.k12.nm.us or call 575-627-2800. For more information about AVID, visit avid.org.