My Experiences in AVID (WAW)

AVID, AVID logo, Write Anything Wednesday

Have you ever heard of AVID? For this week’s Write Anything Wednesday, I thought I’d talk about AVID, a program that has been around for much longer than I initially believed.

What Is AVID?

First, AVID is an acronym. It stands for “Advancement Via Individual Determination.”

AVID was created by Mary Catherine Swanson in 1980, but it was years in the making. A high school teacher since 1966, Swanson taught remedial and advanced English courses. She began teaching at Clairemont High School in San Diego in 1970 and in 1974, developed a rigorous English course program with the help of two other English teachers.

After San Diego Unified School District was integrated in 1979 (due to a 1978 federal court decision), there would be an influx of students from poorer and more ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Educational standards at schools from those neighborhoods were of course lower. That meant that teachers (at Clairemont High) would need to design their programs in order to help the newer students succeed.

With the help of English teacher Jim Grove, Swanson designed a special program for incoming C students. The goal was to help teens develop good study habits and prepare for college. The program was run in collaboration with the University of Sand Diego.

Swanson began her program in earnest. In 1980, she selected 32 C students to be a part of the program by enrolling them in college preparatory courses and in AVID as an elective. The curriculum consisted of tutoring, reading and writing exercises, and effective note-taking. Swanson was able to hire tutors from the University of California thanks to a $7,000 loan from the Bank of America.

Swanson’s program found some early successes. Of the first group students enrolled in AVID at Clairemont High, all were enrolled in postsecondary education programs (28 went to four-year universities and 2 went to community colleges). In addition, AVID schools featured students with higher test scores in English and Mathematics than students at other schools in the district.

Swanson grew her program from within her school. She realized that there needed to be a greater collaboration with teachers at Clairemont High School so that the teachers were reinforcing study habits and college preparatory standards. This led to a Summer Institute and after-school meetings with teachers and students.

In its first 20 years, AVID grew to a program that was incorporated in 20 states and 13 other countries. In 1996, the California state legislature earmarked $1 million to develop more programs statewide. By 1997, AVID was a part of some middle-school curriculums it began looking at expanding to elementary programs. However, that would happen in another 10 years.

Today, AVID is a global nonprofit that reaches elementary, middle, and high schools as well as universities in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and 16 foreign countries. The goal of AVID is still to prepare all students for college, but the program has a greater focus on underprivileged youth (“History”). Now there is now an inclusion for other opportunities after high school (“What Is AVID?”). (College isn’t for everyone; most just need professional training of some sort.)

How Did I Come to Know About AVID?

When I was in high school, I was enrolled at the suggestion of my first counselor. However, at the time, the program really wasn’t for me. You see, the program was focused on the students who needed more help than I did. I was a (mostly) A student and my academic awakening happened two years prior.

I was in AVID for at least three years, starting in my freshman year. For the most part, it was enjoyable. I goofed around a little bit, but I did learn something.

One thing that stood out wasn’t necessarily the push to enroll in postsecondary education, but the note-taking. I was introduced to Cornell Note-taking. As the name suggested, it was developed at Cornell University.

AVID, Cornell Notes, template, Write Anything Wednesday.
This is a template I made in Illustrator.

One rewarding moment came when my class had to write notes to teachers of our choosing (during my sophomore year). My first choose was my algebra teacher. I loved her and I learned so much from her. She remains one of my favorite teachers to this day.

It was also fun to attend some conventions held by AVID in the state. Near the end of the freshman year, students would be able to attend conferences with AVID teachers. We would get to meet other people and discuss the successes our programs made during the year. I attended two.

At the first conference I attended, only 2 students from an AVID program could attend. That was restrictive, but it was on a school day. It was kinda boring, but I remember eating a salad.

That salad was the best part because, I gotta tell you: That was the freshest lettuce I have ever eaten. Unfortunately, I have never found lettuce that fresh since. Where did that get it?

Anyway … another thing I remember from that first conference is meeting a teacher who would be a part of my school’s “growing” AVID program. My teacher was excited about the prospect AT THE TIME.

What Happened to My School’s AVID Program the Following Year?

This new teacher came along and there was that initial excitement, at least where my AVID teacher was concerned.

At first, my teacher and those in my AVID class thought that we were all part of one program. But it turns out the teacher of the other class acted in bad faith.

The other teacher quietly distinguished her class from the one I was in. We didn’t really realize this early on, but the other teacher scooped up all of the freshman for that year and she named her AVID course differently. She put the graduating year of her turds students in the name of the course. We were really separate entities, and I don’t know if or why our principal would allow that.

Then the break from our AVID classes finally became apparent when it came to fundraising. Twice every year, there would be a day set aside for fundraising. Different clubs from around the school would set up booths during our lunch periods. We could buy what the clubs were offering (at inflated prices) if we didn’t want to get our regular, mostly unhealthy menu items.

Anyway, my AVID class was selling slices of delicious cake. But we weren’t coordinated with the other class. What did they sell? I flippin’ forgot, but the point was that none of the funds the frosh raised would be shared with us.

Of course, I didn’t like that. It was hard to see my teacher heartbroken over the matter. What made this worse was that my teacher would share everything (even funds) with the frosh class, but the reverse wasn’t true.

By the way: My sister (who was also a part of AVID but also an overachiever when enrolled) wasn’t surprised. She already had a low opinion of the other teacher and that woman’s son. My sister said the son was a bit of a jerk himself. He was arrogant and took things over, like his mom just did with the AVID class.

Honestly, I don’t know how the other teacher’s students fared. Did most of them go to college or learn good study habits? I don’t know what she told them about the original AVID class at our school. She may have told her students that her class was better and badmouthed my teacher, but that’s only speculation.

And I don’t know all the details about the funds. Did this teacher pocket some of the funds she raised? Did she take funds from my class? Did she maneuver around my teacher and soak up all or most of the funds that otherwise could have been shared with the original AVID class? Did she even coordinate with the nonprofit beyond carrying the name? If I had contact with my teacher now, I would reluctantly ask her.

But I do know this: When the other AVID teacher at my school took over the AVID program for her class, she made it more about herself. This is my class. These are my students. These are the funds I raised. This is my program.

And when you think about it, what that other teacher had done went against the spirit and purpose of AVID. Mary Catherine Swanson created her program for the students and it was clear that collaboration was vital. She required and encouraged assistance across various education levels, schools, and departments within schools. By separating classes within the same school, that came at the detriment to the students that needed an overall collaboration.

Works Cited

“AVID’s History.”AVID. Web. Retrieved 17 July 2016. <>.

“What is AVID?” AVID. Web. Retrieved 17 July 2016. <>.

2 thoughts on “My Experiences in AVID (WAW)

  1. Having taught a similar program of Developmental Edication as a college instructor, I can relate to your disappointment. It sounds that this is an accountability issue that often happens in the field of education. It relates to the principle of inertia I think on the part of those who oversee these programs.


    1. You may be right about that. The program should have been coordinated with input from the principal and any regional managers of the AVID program.

      There definitely was an oversight problem and it looks like the other teacher knew it. She saw her chance to take over a program that was meant for a wider pool of students and she used “loopholes” to separate her class from the other.

      It was just really snake-y on her part. The more I think about it, the more obvious it was that she was making it about her.

      But on some level, I just don’t get it. Why do some people get egos, even when running an educational program? It should be about the students.


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