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Success with AVID starts in elementary school


Last updated 4/3/2008 at Noon

This is the fourth in a series of features about Fallbrook public school education.

People who make the oft-repeated comments that Fallbrook public schools are inferior need only meet Andrea Lopez, who graduates Magna Cum Laude this spring from California State University, San Marcos.

This vibrant and self-assured young woman came up through Fallbrook public schools, supported by the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program.

Her major is writing and literature, but she plans to be a teacher. She also tutors Fallbrook High School AVID students in English, reaching back to serve as a role model and show by doing that a four-year university education can be attained if the desire is there.

Following in her footsteps is sophomore Carlos Mendez, first exposed to AVID concepts in the sixth grade at La Paloma Elementary School.

He is bursting with self-esteem and confidence as he talks about math and history, his favorite school subjects. “I’m going into business,” Carlos says.

With a 3.5 grade point average, Carlos’ efforts are a testament to the success of the program. “It helped me manage my time, get into a four-year university and [receive] an academic scholarship from the Padres,” he says.

Carlos has two younger siblings coming up through the program, too.

Another standout student is Mayra Bustos, a junior who entered the AVID program in seventh grade at Potter Junior High School.

Her gaze is steady as she says, “I learned to be self-determinate and how to do things by myself. I also learned that just because you’re from a low-income family, it doesn’t make any difference.”

Mayra’s interests in biology and math have set her on the path to premed. Next year she’ll be taking AP biology and calculus and no doubt excelling.

“My GPA is 3.536,” she says. “Last year it was 3.8.”

Mayra’s role model is her sister, another Fallbrook AVID student and graduate, who now attends the University of Redlands. A younger sister is a nine-grader.

“For years, 100 percent of our AVID students have gone on to college,” says Mary Begley, AVID coordinator for Fallbrook High School.

For a program adopted in 1989 that started with 24 ninth and tenth grade students, Fallbrook High School AVID has grown to encompass 257 students across all four grades in the 2007-2008 school year.

Barbara Kalisuch was the first AVID lead coordinator, bringing on Begley, who worked with her for 10 years, then took over the lead position when Kalisuch retired in 2007.

Two teachers continue the tradition. Connie Fellios recently became an AVID coordinator. Sixteen teachers instruct in the AVID program, covering algebra, biology, English, chemistry, geometry, pre-calculus, US history and world history. One of these classes is taught by Adriana Lopez, an AVID graduate and now a teacher.

Twenty-four of the 26 classes taught in a week are college prep. In addition, seven AVID-only classes meet each week to assist students.

These AVID classes are like a “homeroom,” Begley says. This is where college-age tutors, like Andrea Lopez, come in and teach academic tactics for learning, like note-taking, and expose the students to an advanced environment of education.

Students work on critical thinking, learn how to ask questions that get thoughtful answers, develop organizational skills and are part of activities that lead to college.

Through these intensely focused classes, AVID students gain confidence, improve in their studies and become academically successful.

AVID is a homegrown product, having started in 1980 at Clairemont High School in San Diego by teacher Mary Catherine Swanson. She developed AVID as an academic elective to reach students who may be overlooked in a general school population after federal law desegregated schools.

According to, AVID is “a philosophy: hold students accountable to the highest standards, provide academic and social support and they will rise to the challenge.”

Beginning with Clairemont High School and “32 students, AVID now serves nearly 300,000 students in over 3,500 elementary and secondary schools in 45 states and in the District of Columbia and across 15 countries.”

Last year, superintendent Dr. Janice Schultz and assistant superintendent Dr. Brian Jacobs expanded AVID Elementary to the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District.

As a result, from fourth grade through middle school, all children will be learning AVID concepts, not just those students who may be disadvantaged in some way.

The program was adopted and expanded for multiple reasons, says Dr. Jacobs.

Based on evidence shown in junior high and high school, students in the AVID program who didn’t originally know they had the aptitude for college stayed in school to pursue that goal.

Moreover, these students learned how to take notes and developed organizational skills and positive work habits.

Further, the AVID students at La Paloma and Live Oak reached academic readiness sooner than their counterparts who did not participate in the AVID program.

At first, the program concentrated on students who may not be considering college but now the learning concepts have broadened to include all students.

While it is too soon to have data compiled on the program’s success, Jacobs says the district will know how it’s working when their sixth-graders exit.

Already there are changes, he says: “In year one, it has brought some consistency in teaching methods and a high percentage of teachers are already seeing results.”

When a student is exposed to the AVID teaching concepts in fourth grade, as they continue to use the concepts through fifth and sixth grades, the skills are ingrained so the students can concentrate on academics in class.

Likening the AVID concepts to instruments for learning, Jacobs says, “If I give them tools, it’s a tremendous confidence builder.”

By the time the today’s students in the elementary school population reach high school, they will be approaching courses with learning skills commensurate with college-level needs.

All students will be AVID trained, not just a few.

For example, in September, students in an AVID-structured college prep world history came to class prepared for the day’s lesson, all but two turned in homework and as a whole, without question, the group followed the instructor’s directions in a collaborative learning technique.

In the class that followed, also college prep world history, students from the non-AVID general population were less focused, didn’t seem to understand the instructions even though they were the same as the class previous and one student appeared disengaged from the lesson entirely.

Begley warns that AVID training is not a panacea. Not all students will benefit; some can’t be reached she says.

“Even when parents support the program and want their kids to do well, the students won’t work,” Begley says.

But, when a class of fourth-graders learns how to take Cornell Notes and refer to them for tests, this simple tactic for learning used from then on proves the benefit of AVID concepts over and over.

Research reports AVID students are more likely to take AP classes, complete their college eligibility requirements and get into four-year colleges than students who don’t take AVID.

Students exposed to the AVID program endorse its training, crediting it as the reason they excel, like Adriana Lopez, Carlos Mendez, Mayra Bustos and Susan Moua, a graduate of Sunnyside High School in Fresno, now studying at Berkeley.

“I’m at Berkeley because of AVID,” Moua says. “It motivated me!”

With or without AVID, Begley says, “It’s a shared responsibility to reach our kids – as many as we possibly can.”


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