The Dalles High School Senior Anthony Zapien never envisioned himself taking Advanced Placement courses in high school. But thanks to his participation in a skill-building program, he told the school board recently he feels he passed his recent AB biology test.

For three years now Zapien has taken part in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a program aimed at getting middle-performing students college-ready. Its goal is to close the achievement and opportunity gap.

“What AVID has really helped me with is note-taking,” Zapien told the board May 23. “We take lots and lots of notes and they’re very specific.”

The program stresses revisiting notes often, rather than the notion of setting them aside and then cramming before a test, said Nick Nelson, the retired TDHS principal who now runs the AVID program.

Regular review boosts memory, Nelson said.

Zapien said, “After the first year of AVID, I was like, OK, I can take pretty good notes now. I think I can do it,” he said of AP courses. He waited until his senior year to take AP biology.

Hanna Rodriguez said tutorials, a large portion of the AVID program, “seem tedious and kind of stupid” at first. But then she realized something: they helped her ask better questions.

Before AVID, Rodriguez said, “I’d get stumped and I’d give up.”

Now she knows how to ask questions in order to get to answers, and she’s taken three AP tests. “I felt pretty good on all of them, which I never thought I’d be able to say.”

Tutorials are small groups of students, maybe 4-7, who are led by a college-age tutor. Each student poses a question to the group about where they got stuck on a problem in, say, math or English. As they explain their struggles, the group helps them hash it out.

TDHS teacher Ajay Rundell is the site coordinator for AVID at the high school. In tutorials, students who are stumped show the work they’d done thus far, and the group is in charge of asking questions. The process helps the student examine their own thinking and come to their own understanding of the problem.

In the AVID elective classes, now taught to freshmen and sophomores, about 40 percent of the time is spent on tutorials, Rundell said.

AVID teacher Susan Raffensperger said a tutorial “looks a little messy and they’re talking, but they’re talking about algebra they’re talking about biology. They’re fighting about it.”

She said the AVID training she’s received was the best professional development she’d ever been to.

Research shows that feeling connected to school helps students stay enrolled and learn. “We’ve truly kind of built a family. This is the way students are connecting with teachers and the school,” Raffensperger said.

There are not only AVID elective courses, but there is also a school-wide application of AVID philosophies, Nelson said. Once more high school teachers take trainings this summer, about 60 percent of teaching staff will have had AVID training.

Middle school teachers are also getting AVID training. It is already taught to eighth graders and will reach down to seventh graders next year.

Rundell told the board he’s worked with the same group of AVID students for three years. “To see their maturation and growth has been incredible.”

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