Aprende school recognized for unique way it motivates students

Andrew Dudley, 12, Taleah Burns, 13, and Makenzie Alvarez, 12, say the AVID program at Aprende Middle School has helped them become better students. — Wrangler News photo

By Diana Nelson

Students who needed just a bit more encouragement to excel in school are receiving it and their school just landed a notable achievement, too. Kyrene’s Aprende Middle School has just been rated an AVID Schoolwide Site of Distinction for the 2019-20 school year and is the only Kyrene school to earn this status.

Advancement Via Individual Determination is part of a national program aimed at closing achievement gaps and creating a college-going culture in schools. Renee Kory, Aprende’s principal, offered his enthusiastic endorsement of AVID.

“AVID has transformed teaching and learning at Aprende,” Kory said. “It’s embedded into everything that we do, and in addition to helping students with academics, social skills, and self-advocacy and efficacy, it has tremendously strengthened our culture.”

All of that transformation didn’t happen overnight. It took hard work.

“I am so proud of the teachers and students for their passion for and dedication to AVID and am honored their hard work has been recognized with the prestigious AVID Site of Distinction,” Kory said.

During the next year, the school’s goal, said AVID program coordinator and elective teacher, Jackie Williams, is to become an AVID National Demonstration School. Since AVID began in 2000, there only are eight demonstration schools in the entire state of Arizona.

Aprende adopted the AVID model in 2017 as a way to build specific skills to help students focus on being college bound, as well as academically successful once they are enrolled in college courses.

“In our first year of AVID, we had approximately 35 students in two different AVID classes–one in seventh grade and one in eighth grade,” said Williams. “This year we have 113 AVID students with two sections in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.”

At Aprende, the students who participate in an AVID elective class might not ever be enrolled in advanced classes, but teachers sense that the student selected to participate has the motivation, desire, and determination to achieve at higher levels with support, explained Williams.

“Typically, an AVID student has average to high test scores and a 2.0- 3.5 GPA. They are students who have academic potential,” said Williams.

Students apply for the program and go through an extensive interview process in order to be selected. Once enrolled, they created a binder to organize their assignments and documents for the course elective they select.

Having AVID available to schools is helping to create opportunities for all youth. And it’s not just academics. AVID helps with other transferable skills, including organization, time management, collaboration and more.

The program goes beyond the traditional college and career readiness tactics to help educators foster a more equitable, student-centered approach. Teachers benefit from more professional development, resources, and ongoing support to ensure a lasting impact over their classroom performance.

Scott Schutkowski, an eighth-grade social studies teacher, is extremely positive about his classroom experiences with AVID.

“Being a part of an AVID school and the AVID program has reenergized me as a veteran teacher. I’ve seen so many things come and go over the years, but this program is for real.

“I transferred to Aprende a year after they implemented the AVID program and I was blown away. I am surrounded with extremely capable, professional teachers who are equipped with numerous classroom strategies for student success. The AVID environment and professional development have made me more motivated than ever to step up my game and be a better teacher by using a proven program with engaging strategies.”

Three Aprende students shared their thoughts on how the program is shaping their educational futures.

Taleah Burns, an eighth-grader, said AVID has helped her realize what she wants to do for her career and how to achieve her goals.

I can be anything I want—an entrepreneur, a business manager, a judge, anything,” Taleah said. “Before AVID, I never got that help or that push to encourage me to go to tutoring or accept help. Now I listen to helpful comments from adults. Last year I was a follower and now that I’m in AVID, I’m a leader. I’m on honor roll and I think about college, career, and future success.”

Andrew Dudley, a seventh-grader, said AVID has benefitted him.

“I used to just take notes and put them in my binder and now, I can reflect on them, use them to study, and understand why they are helpful,” Andrew said. “Now I use notes to study for tests and I do well on tests. I am on the honor roll. AVID has helped me understand what it takes to get into college.”

Makenzie Alvarez, a seventh-grader, learned to deal with the homework that had been piling up in her seven classes at Aprende.

“I interviewed for AVID and was accepted into the class and learned about Tutorials, which is where students in the class ask me questions to in order to understand why I might be struggling with a problem, then we work through the problem and solution together,” Makenzie said. “I also found out through AVID what type of learner I am and that has helped me find new ways to write essays easier and better. Now, thinking about college, I am not going to freak out because I have the skills to help me be successful.”

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