On the surface, there are Belmont secondary electives that might seem more attractive or exciting, but many of the students who have taken the AVID program can’t imagine walking down any other path.
AVID, which stands for Advancement via Individual Determination, is geared towards students with average grades and tailors its curriculum towards preparation for life beyond high school.
“We take students … who have college-going potential (and) desire, but maybe they need help with their organization (or) their study strategies,” said Paul Bendall, the program’s site co-ordinator at Belmont.
AVID is also offered at Royal Bay secondary and Spencer and Dunsmuir middle schools, but outside of the Sooke School District it remains a rarity on Vancouver Island.
At Belmont, the program is run in conjunction with English, meaning students get an elective and English credit upon completing the course, although the course covers more material than just English.
Learning the realities of life beyond high school are what separates AVID from standard high school learning.
In other classes, Bendall said, “they don’t always get taught how to study (and) what studying actually means … how to organize and how to (manage) time. We look at those strategies – strategies that, I’ll be honest, I wish I had in high school.” Career possibilities and goal-setting also play a big part in the program, he added.
All of this makes for a pretty challenging course, and as Bendall explains, it’s not for everyone.
“The middle of the road academic learner is a huge range, but that doesn’t mean they all want to put the extra time in,” he said. “When you’re competing against shop classes or P.E. classes, and here’s an academic elective and we’re going to take notes and keep clean binders … it’s not the same as drama class or whatnot.”
Approximately 120 students are enrolled in the AVID program at Belmont, and the school recently received news that it had met the requirements to be considered Highly Certified according to the San Diego-based AVID Center.
While that’s a feather in the cap for Bendall and the rest of the staff who teach the course, the real achievement is illustrated by testimonials given by the program’s students.
“For me it’s really been a constant place where I know the people really well and I feel very safe … it takes the stress away from university and applying for scholarships and not really knowing what the future holds,” said Grade 12 student Mattie Duddridge.
“The work gives us more of a feel of what life’s going to be like after high school,” added Lance Hall, also in Grade 12.
Students were quick to credit the program with improving their academic performance, with some claiming that it has been a life-changing experience for them.
“I would have dropped out a long time ago if it wasn’t for the AVID program. It’s the only thing that’s actually kept me going through my school years. It’s been key to me for keeping a decent grade-point average,” said Grade 12 student Grace McKenzie.
“Where I am now and the grades I have now, I wouldn’t have (without AVID),” Hall said.
The program has also made a difference in the personal lives of its students. AVID students, no matter what grade they are in, say the program is like a big extended family, with regular events such as pot lucks and study nights helping them make close friends.
“AVID is the biggest family support that you have. You get to know everyone and you basically have that friendship after school and you have that family feeling,” said Grade 11 Atessa Flamand.
“It’s a support system,” said Grade 11 Kaley Campbell. “We’re all kind of like a family … having that support’s really helped me.”
For graduating students, Grade 12 is always a bittersweet time as they start to look to the future. Thanks in part to the preparation they’ve done in AVID, most already have a good grasp of where they’ll be this time next year. While it’s an exciting prospect, there’s also little doubt in the minds of these students that their final months in the AVID program will be a challenge.
“It’s going to be emotional,” Hall said.
“(Bendall’s) already given us one speech about graduating and it was pretty emotional,” McKenzie agreed.
More information on the AVID program can be found online at avid.org.