Self-determination seen as key to students’ success

Dr. Jan Vesely, superintendent of the Kyrene school district, joined students at Aprende Middle School for a “Where Everybody Belongs” assembly. With Vesely are Payton Aucunas, front, and Jasmyne Monroe, behind. (Photo courtesy of Kyrene school district)

By Diana Whittle

Kyrene educators draw on several programs in the district to help middle school students master the concepts of inclusion, self-determination and goal-setting, a composite of skills referred to as student agency.

According to educational planners, student agency describes the ability of each child to use and develop individual initiative when it comes to meeting scholastic and personal goals. It’s the opposite of helplessness and allows students to grow at their own rate, at the same time feeling a sense of achievement and social connectedness at school.

Newest in this cohort of offerings for the 2017-18 school year is Advancement Via Individual Determination, with Aprende Middle School in West Chandler taking a leadership position with its adoption of AVID.

At a recent Governing Board meeting, Aprende Principal Renee Kory spoke enthusiastically about teachers’ plans for using AVID during the coming year, describing how Aprende teachers will promote and
integrate school-wide AVID strategies in their classes.

These focus on writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading skills, which are essential for students to pursue a level of college readiness.

AVID contains an extensive professional development component, so during this first year of AVID, Kyrene leaders are tasked with providing teachers the training necessary to incorporate these schoolwide skills, strategies and philosophies.

“We’ve jumped in head-first to AVID and developed a site team of teachers who are passionate about the impact it will have on students,” said Principal Kory. “We are very excited at Aprende to be part of this program.”

“AVID has a school-wide component as well as an elective component. The AVID Elective supports a group of approximately 20 students who are selected based on specific academic and behavioral criteria and who go through an extensive interview process in order to be selected.”

At Aprende, the students who participate in an AVID Elective may not typically be enrolled in advanced classes. However, teachers believe that the selected students have the motivation, grit, attitude and aptitude to achieve at higher levels with support.

Students who are part of the AVID program create a binder to organize the assignments and documents for the advanced course elective that they select.

“Then each student is provided explicit academic support from AVID tutors, typically college students, two days a week,” said Kory.

“During the rest of the week, the AVID Elective teacher focuses on skills that promote and strengthen mindset, determination, public speaking skills, self-advocacy, organizational skills, and collaboration/team building.”

AVID is designed to impact the instruction and atmosphere of a school to support high expectations and levels of achievement for all students. By pushing students into more rigorous coursework, and advocating for them every day, this greatly increases the likelihood of students making it to and through college, says Kory.

Many times, middle school students are stressed about academics and social interactions, studies show. They are anxious to find friends and look for positive role models, which is where another student-agency program, WEB, can be helpful.

WEB, short for “Where Everyone Belongs,” has been in place in the district for several years and is used at several schools, including Aprende.

WEB is built on the belief that older students can help younger students succeed in the transition from elementary to middle school, according
to Kory. It’s a national program that is a way for selected eighth graders to act as mentors to incoming sixth-grade students.

Several students spoke to the Governing Board to explain how being part of WEB helped them adjust to middle school.

Kory agrees that the student agency component of education is vital and helps to close gaps in students’ achievement.

“Self-advocacy and organization are essential middle school skills, yet they are not always fully developed in our students.

“Students need to be taught critical thinking and collaborative skills, while also having an opportunity to develop leadership capacity and the ability to plan and organize for the future,” said Kory.

“AVID provides the tools to ensure students experience success and growth in all of these areas. Most importantly, AVID teaches students that with determination, anything is possible.”



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