By Katia Protsenko

The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program that has been inspiring Santa Cruz high school students to go to college for eight years is now motivating city middle school students as well, thanks to recent grant funding from the California Department of Education.

AVID is an elective class for youths who want to get on a college-bound path, teaching them self-reliance, accountability, problem solving, and note-taking skills. The program was implemented this school year at Santa Cruz’s Mission Hill and Branciforte Middle Schools.

Jason Tovani, assistant principal and AVID coordinator at Mission Hill Middle School, explained how the program came to his school.

“The achievement gap is alive and well at Mission Hill,” Tovani said. “The district received money for targeted instruction, focusing toward the population that is under served by schools.”

AVID classes are meant for students who have not been working up to their full potential, according to Branciforte Middle School Assistant Principal Nannette Overly. Many come from disadvantaged backgrounds and will be the first in their family with the opportunity to attend college.

“We want to better prepare our students to start high school with the college frame of mind,” Overly said. “They need that extra push to get into AP classes.”

Mission Hill AVID teacher Erin Brandon is very excited about the program’s new presence at her school.	

“Kids are thinking of college [who] never thought to go,” she said. “They’re thinking about high school and what to do to get into college. They set up four-year plans [for their high school careers] and take more responsibility.”

Assistant Principal Tovani has seen changes in the school’s student body due to AVID’s presence.

“There’s a budding college-awareness culture,” Tovani said. “The goals of AVID apply to the whole school. [AVID students] inspire others to look into college.”

Brandon explained that AVID is unlike other classes, with different programs for 6th through 12th graders. Its curriculum is broad, stressing group-study and accountability, while students rarely sit and listen to lectures. Another of AVID’s unique features is its focus on minimal parental involvement, which encourages students to take responsibility for their own futures.

“We stress parental support, not involvement,” Tovani said. “We send a letter asking for support at home but not in the classroom. The kids are doing this for themselves.”

Branciforte and Mission Hill’s AVID classes have gone on two field trips this year to UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

“At Cal, we took a tour and watched a football game,” Brandon said. “It was cool. For some, it was the first college they’ve been to, even their first time out of Santa Cruz.”

Tovani added, “They were actually envisioning themselves in college.”

Even as a fledgling program AVID has excited middle school teachers and students, and hopes are high for the program’s participants. Tovani said that school officials hope to continue adding more AVID classes in the coming years to build a stronger foundation for students who wish to continue with the program in high school.

“[AVID] affects the individual, the whole school, and other teachers,” Tovani said. “Individuals are using support and motivation to do things academically they didn’t know they were capable of. They see themselves going to college.”