Chatham Central earns rare academic distinction

High school named AVID Demonstration School, one of 8 in the Carolinas

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/5/19

BEAR CREEK – Chatham County Schools Superintendent Derrick Jordan took the podium on the afternoon of March 28 in Chatham Central High School’s auditorium.

“Do you really realize what has …

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Chatham Central earns rare academic distinction

High school named AVID Demonstration School, one of 8 in the Carolinas

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BEAR CREEK – Chatham County Schools Superintendent Derrick Jordan took the podium on the afternoon of March 28 in Chatham Central High School’s auditorium.

“Do you really realize what has occurred?” he asked, gazing out over the assembled student body, faculty and other guests to the assembly. “Folks across the nation will come to Chatham Central High School to find out what we already know. That is that you are an awesome, awesome school family.”

Almost like a pep captain, Jordan then encouraged the students to rise out of their seats and make some noise, celebrating good news.

Chatham Central was officially named an AVID Demonstration School last week, certifying the school as a model for use of the AVID academic program. It became part of the 195 elementary, middle and high schools that use AVID that earned that honor, around 3 percent of the approximately 6,700 schools that use AVID worldwide.

AVID, which stands for Advancement via Individual Determination, is a series of academic principles and tools that help encourage students in the “middle that have college aspirations but just need a little help to get there,” according to Karen Heilman, an English teacher at Chatham Central who also teaches an AVID elective class.

“We help them with organization and note-taking, reading and writing, college applications, financing, the SAT and ACT, just the whole package to help these kids get to where they want to,” Heilman said. “We’re prepping them for whatever opportunities are out there.”

To be named a demonstration school, Chatham Central had to be visited multiple times by AVID officials and show itself worthy of the designation by implementing certain strategies and professional development programs, as well as establishing a cultural shift within the school. Along with AVID elective classes where students get specific focus on the AVID principles, those initiatives are spread throughout the school.

“By implementing the AVID strategies school-wide, every student gets to benefit from those research-based best practices,” said school Principal Karla Eanes. “It’s our learning system, it’s the way we do school. To know that not only are people acknowledging (what we do) but that people from across the country will be coming to visit us to see how Chatham Central does school is such a powerful experience.”

During the assembly when Chatham Central officially received the designation, senior Randa Branson spoke about how AVID has helped her in school. She said she was born prematurely at 27 weeks and developed spastic cerebral palsy. Then her father, who had been her “Mr. Mom,” died when she was 13. Despite her personal struggles, she said, she’s going to be a first-generation college student and pursuing a career as a doctor.

“I want to change my life from making ends meet to a life of great successes,” Branson said. “My circumstances don’t define me in society. I am going to be a college graduate and I am going to be a med school graduate and become a doctor because, with AVID, all my dreams are possible. AVID gave me the choice to choose my destiny and acknowledge that I have control over my choices and my decisions.”

Saying that her past became a “fuel for my future,” Branson added that the word “can’t” became “like cursing.”

Chatham Central earned a rare distinction with this award, becoming the smallest rural school in the United States and just one of two high school demo sites in the Carolinas. Eric Patin, a science and AVID elective teacher at the school, said that while the rural character of the area is a positive for the school because of the tight-knit nature of the community, it’s an obstacle to overcome.

“It tells you how special of a place Chatham Central is,” he said. “The mindset of a lot of students here is some kids are meant for college and some kids aren’t. Even the ones who have the ability oftentimes don’t go because they might come from a family (where) that’s not the norm.”’

But Chatham Central has bucked that. And it won’t be long before others are going to come see what they’re doing — the first AVID showcase in Bear Creek is set for April 8.

Jordan closed his brief remarks with an expression of how proud he was.

“What we know is there are phenomenal things happening here,” he said, “and we are looking forward to sharing the special nature of this school with others across the nation.”

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