BALTIMORE – James Allen, 16, says he was a “D” student and a “class clown” until a program called AVID at Pikesville High School in Baltimore County set him on the path to college.
AVID is now offered at 20 Baltimore County high schools, including Pikesville, which has done so well with the program that it’s been named a national demonstration school, said Linda Powell-McMillan, AVID’s national director of program development.
“I wasn’t really organized when I first came in,” Allen told a group of out-of-state educators observing AVID at his school on Thursday. “They helped me challenge myself academically.”
Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, is a national program that teaches underachieving students to take better notes, encourages them to enroll in difficult classes and introduces them to the college application process.
Through AVID, Allen, a junior, is now taking three Advanced Placement classes, getting better grades and aiming for college.
Last spring, 14 seniors graduated from AVID at Pikesville. Coming into ninth-grade with average and low grades, most of them completed the school’s toughest courses and went on to college.
Of the graduates, 11 went to four-year schools, two went to community colleges and one is studying the culinary arts. Together the students received more than $200,000 in scholarships, teachers said.
AVID has improved the outlook for all Baltimore County schools using it.
Since the program took root four years ago, attendance has improved and scores on state tests rose. In last year’s graduating class, 54 percent of the county’s AVID seniors took at least one Advanced Placement class and 98 percent of them applied to college.
By next fall, all 24 county high schools will have AVID, said Jessie Douglas, Baltimore County’s AVID district director.
Participants are selected for the program in eighth grade, when teachers and guidance counselors identify “students who have the potential to be really successful in college,” but lack the motivation to get them there, Douglas said.
Once they begin the program in high school, students sign up for an AVID elective, where they sharpen writing and reading skills, visit colleges and get help with material they learn in other classes.
The program has worked partly because “there’s a strong belief factor with the students here,” said Superintendent Joe Hairston.
But while most students embrace AVID by their sophomore year, teachers say it can be a challenge to keep them on track at the beginning.
“Kids don’t always see the big picture,” said John Fontinell, Pikesville’s math department chairman who teaches the AVID elective.
Other teachers said being firm, expressing interest in students’ success and getting parents involved are critical components.
“AVID is kind of like a family,” said Marcia Mellinger, 17, who joined Pikesville’s program at the urging of her middle school guidance counselor. “There’s a lot of support. There’s a lot of working together.”
AVID serves 1,117 Baltimore County students, Douglas said, but the number benefiting is even higher, she said, because other teachers have learned to use some of the AVID methods.
“If any teacher across any discipline uses these concepts, it only helps refine their strategy,” said Natalie Bailey, an English teacher and AVID coordinator at Pikesville.
Educators new to AVID said they found Pikesville’s demonstration helpful.
“It’s a lovely school,” said Donna Rando, assistant superintendent at West Orange Public Schools in New Jersey. “They actually do what it is they’re supposed to be doing.”
“It’s worked wonders,” said Jessica Miragliuolo, the new AVID coordinator at New Hanover County Schools in North Carolina, where the program has been in place for five years. “I love seeing the same strategies being used everywhere.”