The AVID program: it could have worked…

Our first clue came in middle school, probably when Nathan was finishing 7th grade or beginning 8th grade. We’d gotten a notice that his school was sponsoring an evening in which presenters from the nearby California State University campus would talk to students and parents about getting ready for college.

It had long been clear to us that Nathan was pretty darn smart. For me, it was a given that after high school he’d be going to college of some sort. But here, midway through middle school, Nathan was caring less and less about his school performance. We thought attending an event like this Road to College Night (or whatever it was called) would help him wake up and smell the whatever-he-needed-to-smell.

When we talked about going to this event, Nathan protested. No surprise there: he deeply resented non-fun demands on his free time. We said something like, we’ll go because you need to understand what colleges will be looking for. (And probably I added more blah-blah-blah after that, because back then especially I didn’t always realize when to stop pressing my point.)

Nathan proceeded to have an epic meltdown, more intense than any we’d seen for a few years. We were bewildered. What was it about attending this event that disturbed him to his core?

The next day when he was calmer I asked him what the problem was, and we eventually came to the idea that he didn’t want to go to college, or to grow up for that matter.

Aha! Immaturity, I thought to myself. He’s overwhelmed with the idea of moving toward adulthood. I could remember that feeling, although I hadn’t screamed and wailed. We could let it go for now, but he’d have to get with the program before too long. We skipped the Road to College Night.

In the spring of his 8th grade year, when some of Nathan’s grades had slid to D’s, another notice came home. This one was about the option of enrolling in the AVID program in high school. We hadn’t heard of it before. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is targeted to students “in the middle,” the students who aren’t getting A’s and B’s going in but who could achieve admission to college with the right kind of support. The teachers on the AVID team set high expectations. The AVID elective class emphasized study skills, organization, and working in groups. It also taught students about how to apply for college.

Most impressive to us was the success rate: I believe the figures were that more than 80% of the students in the AVID program ended up attending, and completing, college. And very few students bombed out of AVID. Wow. If Nathan would have a team of teachers committed to his success, if Nathan were surrounded by peers who were determined to succeed, if Nathan could receive help with note-taking and keeping organized, surely Nathan would be in the vast majority of AVID students advancing to college. Yes!

Another reason we wanted Nathan in AVID was social. We sought to minimize his exposure to bullies and other unsavory characters at that high school, whom we believed would be concentrated in the non-college-bound classes.

The hiccup was that Nathan did not want to be in AVID, and students have to apply to get in the AVID program. (Of course, really, Nathan didn’t want to be in high school at all.) We encouraged, we persuaded, Nathan resisted. We persuaded more, and Nathan half-heartedly completed an AVID application. I hand-carried it to the coordinator the day after the official deadline, but she accepted it, and Nathan entered high school in the AVID program.

The first few weeks of classes, we held our breath. Nathan seemed fine, and said his classes were OK. Whew! He had never held back from complaining if things didn’t suit him. It did seem odd that he hardly had any homework; we were expecting at least a couple hours every night. Nathan always supplied reasons: they did homework in class, they’d had a sub, they did it during the AVID elective period, they were doing a project but he didn’t have to start it yet.

Every two weeks the students were supposed to bring home a grade report, which was a form on which each teacher would record his/her current grade. Nathan didn’t have one at the two-week mark, because (he said) the teachers hadn’t gotten the forms from the office yet. Still no report at three weeks.

I forget exactly how it happened, but at the end of September we finally found out: Nathan had 3 or 4 F’s. Many missing assignments, he wasn’t participating, and he wasn’t prepared for tests and quizzes. He was bumped from Geometry back to Algebra I.

The news devastated me. Not only his poor performance, but all the outright lies! It was a one-two punch. You know how it is when you think you’ve found the solution, and things end up worse than before?

We met with the teachers that fall. They saw that Nathan was capable and they were willing to keep trying to help him. For our part, we had scoped out tutoring services and said we’d get him started at one soon. (I remember a few of the teachers exchanging glances at that news.)

Despite the tutoring, despite our email contact with the teachers, despite everything, Nathan ended up with 3 F’s for the first semester. And despite some excellent work on projects like creating a children’s book on biomes for Biology class, Nathan didn’t really improve in spring semester. This was when we realized he was making an effort to fail, purposely neglecting to turn in assignments I’d made sure he’d done.

We met with the teachers as a group again in the spring. I remember asking, “So will Nathan be able to stay in AVID in 10th grade?” The teachers directed their gaze to the floor, and one of them told us “No, not with his track record.” Maybe we were dumb or naïve to hope otherwise. After all, the AVID teachers are trained and work very hard to guide students who WANT to achieve. A year of being in AVID had not brought Nathan’s perspective around. They said if he improved later in high school, he could re-enter the program.

The AVID elective teacher, who’d probably been impacted the hardest with Nathan’s bad attitude, had to leave the meeting early. On her way out, she touched Nathan’s shoulder and told him, “Your parents love you very much.”  I think she said it as much for our benefit as for his, and to this day I am moved by her words.

It was either at that meeting or a later one that we developed a 504 plan for Nathan: a list of accommodations and modifications that his teachers the following year would implement, recognizing that his AD/HD and his whole mental package (as yet undiagnosed) made it difficult for him to function. The 504 plan and what happened with it will be the subject of a future post.

At our family counselor’s suggestion, we also took Nathan that summer to the Amen Clinic for a SPECT brain scan, which will also be discussed in a later post.

Nathan ended up with 2 F’s in spring semester, earning him a trip to summer school to begin making up credits. You would think a guy who hated school and was capable would at least get D’s so he wouldn’t have to spend extra time in school! I guess the point he was trying to make was worth the extra pain to him.

What can be learned from our AVID experience?

  • I think it could have worked. Our son presented a unique set of problems that led to him being one of the few that bombed out of AVID. At the time we did not understand the depth of his problems. Sometimes you have to go through an experience to learn that it isn’t a good fit.  If AVID is available in your teen’s school district, it might be worth looking into.
  • When our younger son Alan, who is also headstrong, let his grades slip in middle school, we didn’t look into AVID for him, having learned that AVID only works if the student wants to be there.
  • The other AVID students were a good group. I applaud all of them, and their teachers, for their efforts and focus.
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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. Born and raised in New Jersey, I've also lived in upstate New York and in Oregon. My profession involves maps and geography, which is usually very interesting. My hobbies are pretty boring - none of them involve tigers (or ligers) or jumping out of aircraft - so they do not bear mention here. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

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