Saying goodbye to a second family in AVID

Rosemount and Eagan to graduate first class of four-year AVID students

The Rosemount High School AVID program started in 2013 when (from left) Yaseein Abdelaal, Bridget McLaughlin, Kiera Lawson and Julianne Onayiga were ninth-graders. Photo by Tad Johnson

One will never know how different Kiera Newson’s academic life would have been had it not been for the AVID program.

The Rosemount High School senior who entered the program as a ninth-grader was a typical “academic middle” student taking the kinds of courses most students do.

But when she found the support and high expectations of striving toward college that the school’s Advancement Via Individual Determination curriculum provides, a switch turned on.

If it wasn’t for AVID she said she probably would have went through high school only taking “on level” courses.

Instead she took Advanced Placement English, which she admits isn’t her favorite subject, along with college level courses in Spanish, statistics, psychology and forensic science.

The last one is an area in which she plans to pursue in college.

To say that AVID changed Kiera’s future is not a stretch.

The same could be said of the other 428 students enrolled in AVID programs throughout the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District.

For Rosemount and Eagan high school’s AVID students, this year is particularly special since it is the first year the program’s students have benefitted from four years of the nationwide curriculum aimed at ensuring success for students in the academic middle.

The RHS program started in 2013 when Kiera, Bridget McLaughlin, Yaseein Abdelaal and Julianne Onayiga were ninth-graders.

Though Yaseein and Julianne weren’t in the RHS program until later, Bridget and Kiera entered the class at that time, and in the past four years it has created a network of support for the students that is unlike any other at the school.

“That bond you get from nowhere else,” Bridget said of class of basically the same group of students that has met daily for the past four years. “It helps you to not feel like: ‘I’m doing this alone.’ ”

“AVID teaches you what it is like to be a part of a community,” Julianne said. “You know that no matter where you go you that connection is there.”

The main feature of AVID is the support network it offers as it gives time for classmates in small and large groups go around the circle to talk about academic successes and struggles.

In these sessions, they can process concepts and pinpoint areas of concern.

“The students have developed self-awareness through AVID,” said teacher Lisa Hansen, who is also a Rosemount school counselor. “They better understand points of confusion and how to get answers to further their own learning. They know where to begin, what questions to ask and how to help each other out. They can facilitate discussions and go deeper into the course content. I believe that both their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills have been enhanced through the experience of AVID.

“This is important to AVID because: They understand how to navigate their own learning isn’t just about the final grade they achieve. They have responsibility in their learning.”

A portion of the class time is used by students to review and work on class assignments while maintaining the organization skills that are a major component of the curriculum along with college visits (that start as early as ninth grade), volunteerism and study strategies.

High school is a series of challenges — both academic and social — for even the best students, and Bridget says the structure of AVID is a comforting retreat.

The all for one and one for all mentality has students helping other students along with structured tutorials by the teachers.

“Some of the best teachers I’ve ever had are in AVID,” Kiera said. “They are like a second parent. They are there to laugh with you or pick you up when you need it.”

Julianne said the AVID tutorials helped her get better grades in the classes with which she previously struggled.

The program encourages students to take rigorous courses with the idea that they will be supported by their peers and AVID counselors if they run into problems.

“Some of the students have put themselves in more vulnerable positions to take advanced college preparatory classes because they have the extra support through AVID,” Hansen said. “And some of the students who are first generation college bound needed the extra guidance AVID provides to navigate the college search, application, financial aid, scholarships and the decision-making process.”

Yaseein said another benefit of AVID has been learning the Cornell Notes system.

Instead of just taking notes during class lectures, the system encourages students to pull out keywords, write questions and summarize main thoughts immediately after a class.

“It helps me when I don’t know the answer to a question to ask it right away and find out what I am really confused about,” Yaseein said.

Bridget said being in AVID has given her the confidence to ask for help when she needs it. Previously she said she was ashamed to ask for help.

She said AVID also taught her how to ask the right questions in class.

“The graduates who have been through AVID have figured out how to function more independently and better navigate their education needs,” Hansen said.

For their community service, some of the students served as tutors in homework help sessions for younger students.

“Community service is important to AVID because it is a piece of the developing self-awareness necessary to be successful,” Hansen said. “We have seen the students experience first-hand what it means to be intrinsically motivated. When they do a project like that, they learn what kind of satisfaction comes from giving. Honest, authentic joy. Some kids who have had great experience even continue with the experience after the community service assignment is over. Community service also shows them what capacity they have to make a difference and be a change agent in the world, developing confidence and leadership skills.”

The students said the homework help sessions also made them think about how far they have come academically.

Helping younger students through math or reading assignments took them back to their days doing those same assignments that maybe were a struggle.

Yaseein said working through beginning algebra assignment forced him to rethink how he learned those building block equations and how to help the younger students understand them just like AVID emphasizes.
Another first

Memories of the journey behind and visions of the futures to be made got the best of Eagan High School AVID teacher Suzy Heilman when she addressed the first group of the program’s graduates a few weeks ago.

Heilman was so moved by looking out at the students that when she told them she felt honored that they would have her as their teacher, she paused and attempted to gather herself to finish her remarks.

When it was apparent she needed a little help, one by one, each AVID student rose up from their seats and stood behind Heilman to give their support to a teacher who had supported them so many times over the past four years.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Carita Green, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District’s integration and equity coordinator. “It was a culmination of learning, laughter, appreciation, family and life-long relationships — the true definition of AVID.”

Such moments have been happening in the district ever since the first class of AVID students graduated from Apple Valley High School eight years ago.

The program has grown from those seniors to include 428 students spread across eight schools.

Apple Valley hosts the largest number of AVID students with 144 as of Jan. 30, 2017.

Eastview has 87 AVID students, Rosemount 76, the School of Environmental Studies 62, Eagan 60, Falcon Ridge Middle School 52, and Black Hawk Middle School 23.

Valley Middle School also has an AVID elective program.

Eagan, like Rosemount, is graduating its first class of AVID seniors. Eastview and SES are on their fifth and third class of seniors, respectively.

Green said there are waiting lists to get into the program at some schools.

She said District 196 AVID graduates typically earn a combined amount of over $1 million in scholarships each year.

“All students benefit from AVID because the teaching strategies and student support methods can be used in all of our classes,” Green said. “These strategies are research based and proven to close the achievement gap.”

She said in general AVID students score better on the ACT and Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments than non-AVID students in various demographic and social economic status groups.

When asked if they thought their non-AVID peers were missing out on something by not being with the same group of students in a class throughout their four years of high school, the RHS seniors the newspaper spoke to said it could be a great benefit to any students to have such a structure.

Bridget said being together with one group of students in AVID has allowed them to realize each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

“There are no other classes like AVID,” Yaseein said. “You develop personal connections with the other students and the teachers. It is definitely awesome.”

Contact Tad Johnson at [email protected] or at