BEAR CREEK — A year ago, Chatham Central freshman Elijah Herrera’s binder was always in disarray. He was disorganized, found himself not caring about school, and was strongly considering dropping out.
Today, as a sophomore, he’s done a complete turnaround.
“I really want to stay in school, and I want to go to college to study psychology,” Herrera said.
He attributes part of his mindset shift to being part of AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination. At Chatham Central, Herrera’s story is one of many about the power of giving students the tools to succeed.
Herrera said the community he formed in AVID gave him the necessary positive peer pressure needed to make a change in his attitude.
“In AVID I feel like I learned pressure,” Herrera said. “Good pressure. Pressure to stay on task, and get everything done in a timely manner.”
AVID is a nationwide college-readiness program that has proved effective in helping students develop study and academic skills to ensure college readiness and success. It’s been implemented in more than 8,000 schools in 49 states across the U.S. The program began at Chatham Central in 2006 and has grown into a shining star of the school and the district.
In December, CCHS was recertified as a National Demonstration Site — one of about 200 in the nation. Receiving the certification required a visit to the school from national AVID officials along with hundreds of documents showing the school’s ability to help students through its AVID program.
CCHS was first certified in 2019 by AVID; the certification must be renewed every three years.
“We are so honored to again have Chatham Central named as an AVID National Demonstration Site,” Principal Karla Eanes said. “This program has benefited our students in so many ways, helping set them on a path for future success. It is such an honor for our school to be recognized for our excellent implementation of AVID.”
The AVID program at CCHS has grown to include more than 100 students. Students apply in eighth grade and then move through high school with the same cohort and instructor. Paige said this helps encourage community and improve results.
“When you’re in a small group of 20 to 30 kids that all share one goal, it makes each individual work harder,” Paige said. “Everyone is pulling for everyone else.”
Paige said faculty and staff at CCHS have bought into AVID and are able to sell it to families in the school community because they’ve seen the results firsthand.
Many of the students in AVID are potential first-generation college students, so Paige said opening their eyes to the possibilities of the future is an important step in their long-term success.
“It’s about giving them choices to build the future they want to see for themselves,” Paige said.
Through time management and financial assistance, AVID helps students apply to eight colleges of their choice for free, and helps keep them on track to make sure they submit everything on time.
Oldham said this was especially helpful because he realized what colleges are within reach. In the beginning, he said it was a lot of work to get applications and scholarships in order well before his peers had even begun to think about the college process, but now he’s excited about what the future has in store.
“Every week of first semester we had to send in a college application,” Oldham said. “And every time before we hit submit someone would look over our essays and our questions to make sure we’re submitting everything right.”
He said that level of support has been invaluable and without it, Oldham believes he likely would have missed deadlines or submitted lower-quality applications. While the senior doesn’t know where he’s going to college yet because he is waiting on decisions from several schools, he said his participation in AVID allowed him to apply to universities that previously felt out of reach.
“I don’t think I could’ve done it without the extra backbone of support I have here,” Oldham said. “All my applications would’ve been late because it’s just a lot, but now I’m trying for places I didn’t think I had a real shot at even last year.”
Last year’s senior AVID class at CCHS saw 100% of its participating students accepted to a four-year university — a feat the school has accomplished every year since 2009. Paige said she expects to continue that record this year.
To the teachers at CCHS, AVID is more than just a class to help students get to college — it’s a mindset and methodology for educating. All teachers are trained in AVID techniques and help students use tools like note-taking, organization and time management, even if they aren’t in the AVID program.
“The use of AVID strategies schoolwide has positively impacted students and staff, and we continue to see a more engaged and college-ready student body,” Eanes said.
Teachers also move through high school with their assigned cohort of AVID students. Laura Bridges is the ninth grade AVID teacher, but next school year she’ll move to 10th grade with her students.
“We really get to know the kids in our program,” Bridges said. “We track them through the years and we form a tight bond with them.”
Bridges said those bonds give the AVID program at CCHS a “sense of family.” The students also have shared experiences that foster community like twice-weekly tutoring sessions, small group studies or visiting colleges together.
“We’re surrounded by people here that support us all the time,” said Aidan Johnson, a sophomore AVID student at CCHS. “We all have the same goal — teachers, our peers, everybody — we all want to get to college. And we can’t do it without each other.”
CCHS’s success in AVID is also a result of the support from local sponsors who believe in the power of the program to make a difference. Chatham Education Foundation has made AVID a primary focus of its grant and fundraising efforts in recent years.
“Our board and staff are consistently impressed by AVID and the program’s ability to show results, including 100% of Chatham Central’s AVID students admitted to a four-year university,” Jaime Detzi, executive director of CEF, said. “When implemented with fidelity, AVID’s strength is ensuring students from all backgrounds have the skills necessary, academic rigor and support system in place to gain the opportunity to attend college.”
The support of sponsors like CEF and the backing of the Chatham County Board of Education have led to AVID programs being implemented in high schools across the district. CCS is also focusing efforts on expanding AVID to middle schools and possibly elementary schools in the near future.
“The Chatham Education Foundation will supplement funding to support the expansion of AVID to all Chatham County Schools’ middle schools,” Detzi said.
The growth of the program across the county is largely because of the successes seen at CCHS. Paige and her colleagues said they will continue to support the growth and prosperity of AVID at their school and across the district.
For more information about AVID in Chatham County Schools visit https://sites.google.com/chatham.k12.nc.us/ccsavidcollegecareerreadiness
Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_rappaport.