Mediocrity will get the average high school student a diploma in four years, but a successful encore at college is a jump many are ill-equipped to make. A nationwide program aimed at preparing C-average students for that goal has found success at dozens of Hawaii public schools and should be encouraged for its efforts, not limited due to cost restraints.
The college preparatory program was initiated more than 30 years ago at a high school in San Diego, Calif., and now serves 400,000 students in 4,500 schools, grades 4 through 12, in 47 states and 16 countries and territories. The nonprofit Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, landed at Hawaii’s Campbell High School in 2004 and now is offered to 7,000 students at 88 public schools in the islands. More than 100 of the state’s 258 schools are signed up for the program next school year.
Without guidance, many well-behaved, average students too often receive too little attention from teachers and school counselors and typically enroll in courses that are less than demanding. AVID puts such under-achieving students on a more rigorous path at an early age with the help of tutors and counselors.
Only about half of Hawaii high school graduates enter college, and more than a third of those entering the University of Hawaii system need remedial instruction in math or English. Various methods are applied to prepare students for college, but AVID is particularly effective because students must volunteer for the program.
"I don’t know much about college," Washington Middle School eighth-grader Joanne Khau told the Star-Advertiser’s Mary Vorsino. "I just know I want to get there."
Khau’s average grade has gone from 3.0 to 3.8 since she entered the program.
All 72 of Hawaii’s AVID seniors graduated last year and more than three out of four are planning for college.
Ideally, of course, priming graduates for higher learning should be a core mission for the public school system. But education, as much as it is about academics like math and English, is also about intangibles like inspiration and motivation. AVID helps foster those often-missing achievement blocks by teaching skills such as organization and time management.
The state Department of Education seems well on its way to eventually providing the program in all schools, but cost threatens to derail any such potential. Any school entering the program must come up with $40,000 in the first year for a week-long training program on the mainland for eight teachers, and some may spend that much in the second or third year to prepare other teachers. Federal dollars have taken care of that expense so far, but that may no longer be available because of spending constraints; the state has its own budget problems.
It is up to the individual schools, then, or school districts, to recognize this program’s success and rebudget internally. Programs designed for the gifted and talented — Advanced Placement — as well as those for special-needs children are financed by tax revenues, and the same should be true for students belonging to what Washington Middle Principal Mike Harano calls the "forgotten group." In time, given the program’s trajectory of success and expansion, the hope is that AVID-type success permeates to become the norm, not the exception, on Hawaii’s school campuses.