First AVID class graduates in Lakeville
Rigorous program prepares students for college
Jorge Hernandez of Lakeville stood proudly as he talked with a teacher. His mother, Yudmil, and sister, Ana, sat nearby beaming.
The Lakeville North High School senior and 13 classmates from both Lakeville high schools comprised the first AVID class to graduate in the Lakeville school district, an accomplishment celebrated by district staff, the School Board and the students’ families Tuesday night, May 22, at the Lakeville Holiday Inn and Suites.
Superintendent Lisa Snyder said the district had “great pride” in the students.
“We want to celebrate you and your children,” she told the audience.
Though they did take classes with others throughout their four years, the students always came together for their AVID class with the same teacher and core group of classmates.
This served to give the evening the air of a family gathering, as opposed to a set of 60 people celebrating an impressive accomplishment.
The college-readiness program is nationally notable for its ability to take capable students and teach them some of the finer points of college preparation: note-taking, organization and accountability.
Hernandez admitted to goofing off too much in middle school. This left him in a bind when high school came around.
He wanted to get into a four-year university.
“I had no idea how to keep organized or take notes,” he said. “When I got to high school I got scared and talked to my deans about putting me in AVID.”
Hernandez will attend Minnesota State University, Moorhead, this fall to study business.
Ray Hawes, one of the district’s cultural liaisons, has been tutoring AVID students, in addition to giving talks in their classes, since he started with the district two years ago.
“I encourage them to fulfill their dreams,” he said.
He had a huge smile on his face as the event progressed.
“These are my little ducklings,” Hawes said. “My heart is bursting with pride.”
Melanie Smieja has been a high school AVID teacher since the program’s inception.
She spoke at the ceremony about students like Ignacio, who started out a wallflower and by the end of high school was an assertive leader. Ignacio, she said, “had found his voice.”
Another student, Autumn, became a tutor for younger AVID students.
Scott Schmelzle has been teaching a high school AVID class for three years.
He shared an adage he has told the students over the years.
“Don’t allow yourself to be defined by a single story,” he said. In other words, each student is more than just an athlete, a Hispanic or some other single category, he said.
Last year, the district extended its AVID program to include the middle schools. As with their high school counterparts, students learn the Cornell Notes, a system for efficient, meaningful note-taking; visit colleges; and learn organization skills, among other things.
Ana Hernandez starts high school next year, and, like her brother, is also in AVID. She also has something else in common with her brother pre-AVID.
“I was really not organized,” she said.
AVID students use special binders to hold all their study papers. This made all the difference. Add to that Cornell Notes and Ana said she is not only better prepared for high school but is already thinking about college.
Ana’s class recently visited the University of Minnesota Duluth, an activity she said was organized in part by some classmates.
She said she feels like AVID is preparing her to be a leader.
The accountability portion of the program is rather holistic. It’s not just the teachers and the students’ families who are heavily involved in ensuring a future in post-secondary education for the AVID students; the students help each other as well as their cohort progresses through high school.
Stacy Wells, the district’s integration and equity coordinator, said this interpersonal component is one of the program’s primary features.
Though it does not get the attention of the other aspects of AVID, Wells said “the relationships they create with teachers and other students in the group is the most talked about among the kids.”
Wells has been with the district for three years. She said that though she has not seen AVID through its entirety, she feels a deep connection with it.
“It’s exciting to see them come through the program,” she said. “I think that a lot of them really would not have seen themselves going on post-high school had they not been a part of AVID.”
An uncertain future
Though AVID has the backing of the district’s decision-makers, its future is not set in stone.
The district funds the program with a portion of its $1.1 million in “integration funds,” money set aside by the Legislature to help level the playing field between minority and white students.
Though AVID is not exclusively for minority students, its role in closing the achievement gap between white and minority students in Minnesota – one of the highest in the nation – makes it a pivotal part of the integration philosophy.
In 2011, the Legislature called for a bipartisan task force to assess how to better allocate integration funding to districts.
Lakeville School Board Member Bob Erickson, a longtime AVID champion, was one of 12 people chosen to serve on the task force.
Its recommendations, released in February, called for directing more spending to the classroom and allowed for only a portion to be used for administrative purposes, he said.
Though the House held a hearing on the task force’s findings this year, the recommendations never made it beyond that. As a result, the dedicated funding could sunset next school year if nothing is done. This would mean integration funding would stay in the state’s general fund.
This possibility makes the AVID graduation bittersweet for Wells.
“We don’t know what will happen with the program,” she said.
About 30 percent of the district’s $1.1 million in integration funds comes from a local levy, with the remainder from the state, Erickson said.
“It would certainly be difficult to maintain the comprehensive program currently in place,” Erickson said.
The Lakeville district would most likely have to find alternate ways to pay for AVID, Erickson said, a difficult prospect considering the millions in cuts the district endured a year ago.
Families at the event were paying attention to a different kind of future, though.
Yudmil Hernandez sat joyously at her table, flanked on both sides by her AVID-inspired children. Both have become better organized and better note-takers, adding to that a seriousness about their future and the possibilities it could bring.
Though they are originally from Mexico, they have placed their faith in the American Dream. For Jorge, he said, AVID has helped him approach this goal by “pretty much getting my act together.”
Note: The story’s lead paragraph was amended to reflect that students graduated from both of Lakeville’s high school AVID programs.