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News from 2021-2022

Posted: January 5, 2022

Harrison Middle School is AVID About Learning

The program is helping develop leadership skills that will help students in high school, later in college, and hopefully in life.

Note: Staff who support New Mexico lawmakers visited schools as they prepared for the 2022 legislative session. We are featuring some of the APS schools and programs they learned about.

“For the last three years, we’ve been the middle school guru of the state,” says Harrison’s principal, Byron Cummings, which he attributes to AVID and his staff’s commitment to student success. “You’ll see kids learning to work together to problem-solve, using the skills they’ve learned from their AVID teacher using AVID strategies.”

Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, is an elective class with a mission “to close the opportunity gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society.” It was first implemented at Harrison in 2013 and is designed to help students who know they want to go to college or have dreams and goals that college would help them achieve but need a little help with academics and developing the necessary skills to achieve their goals.

Most of the AVID students at Harrison would be the first generation in their families to go to college, and many are also in the English Language Development program. “We’ve had a lot of our ELD population in our AVID program, and they’ve been very successful,” says Alyssa Sanchez Padilla, Harrison’s assistant principal.

Getting students involved with AVID begins with recruiting events. “We would have assemblies in the gym and go over the program to get kids pumped up and motivated, and really make them feel that this is a special thing for them to join,” Sanchez Padilla adds. “We talk about the benefits, and sometimes we have advocates come back from the high school, and it is a real inspiration for the kids to see them and say ‘Wow, that could be me!’”

Once students are interested, they interview for a spot in the program, kind of like a job interview, and often dress up as if it were. The AVID team looks at the student’s behavior and school involvement, asks them what they’d like to do when they’re older, and maps out the steps to get there. The interview process helps students view AVID as a special benefit rather than just extra work.

Principal Cummings says most students get involved in sixth or seventh grade, and about 95% stay with the program. Kids sign a contract that outlines their part, the school’s part, and the teacher’s part in the process. In addition to academic and language assistance, Harrison staff also teaches skills that will help the students step up into leadership roles.

With AVID being an elective, some kids felt like they might be missing out on some of the more fun or active electives, so the staff was quick to make adjustments so the students and programs could work together more effectively and incorporated an additional class period into the schedule. “We decided to go to a seven-period day so they can still have an elective of choice where they can explore music, art, or whatever they’re interested in so that students don’t feel like they’re locked into pure academics all day because AVID is extra work,” Sanchez Padilla says.

And when it comes to innovative responses, Harrison staff didn’t stop at adding an additional class period—they also became the only school in APS to have a rotating schedule. Students attend classes in their usual order of one through seven on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and reverse the order on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “Kids and teachers both have different energy levels throughout the day,” Sanchez Padilla says. “What we saw is that it provided perspective and really helped the kids and the teachers see each other in a different light, and we’ve had a lot of success with that.”

Principal Cummings, whose school boasts multiple trophies for student council, says it’s the mix of everything that helps make his school a success. “The bilingual program, AVID, and student council are all interwoven throughout the school, and it’s helping develop leadership in our school that will hopefully help the students in high school, and later in college, and hopefully one of these days, one of them is the mayor, governor, or a senator.”

Currently, AVID programming exists in more than fifty schools across all four Learning Zones in APS for students in grades 7-12.