Ayan Usman, a sophomore at Como Park High School, is tall, wears a long olive-green skirt and has eyes that gaze steadily from beneath her silky black headscarf.
She says she likes working with money and numbers and would like to be her own boss some day. Her plan is to study business and economics after high school, perhaps at Mankato State University.
Usman was an average student who caught the eye of her science teacher, Robyn Asher, who told Usman that she thought she could handle a more challenging biology class and that she should also sign up with the AVID program.
AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) provides average students with special classes, teachers and support during the school day so that they are challenged to become above-average students.
Usman says she finds AVID helpful because it teaches students how to take better notes and offers tutorials. Plus, she says, “the teachers push you.”
That kind of good faith and encouragement can be the key to academic success. AVID students sign up for rigorous courses, as well as AVID elective courses where they learn to improve organization and study skills, maintain a high GPA, prepare for college placement exams, and investigate college and scholarship opportunities.
According to Dawn Laufenberg, coordinator for the program at Como, AVID participants are those who are in the academic middle and have been flagged by teachers as having the potential to do better.
AVID is a national program that was brought to the St. Paul School District three years ago. This is the second year for the program at Como. Some of Como’s AVID students were introduced to the program at Murray Junior High.
“I love the AVID program,” says Laufenberg. “It gets kids into advanced classes and supports them. They attend an AVID elective class every day. That’s a key piece.”
AVID was developed in the early 1980s in San Diego in response to court-ordered integration. It 1992 AVID incorporated as a nonprofit organization.
Its programs are used in schools nationwide to prepare students for college. According to AVID’s Web site, 75 percent of 2006 AVID graduates were accepted at a four-year college.
The AVID site team at Como includes coordinator Laufenberg, guidance counselor Eloise Allen, principal Dan Mesick, math teacher Rosemary Hofer, world language teachers Suzanne Susens and Kathy Herrema-Johnson, and the two teachers who teach AVID electives: Robyn Asher (science) and Kristin Meister (English). All are trained and certified by AVID.
Tutors provide another key component to the AVID program, many of them volunteers. They work with students on Tuesday and Thursdays. College student Christopher Pleasants got involved because he was looking for a job with college access programs.
“I want to have a career in working with college access programs when I graduate,” he says. “It’s where my passion lies.”
Pleasants, a graduate of St. Paul’s Central High School, says, “You are starting to see more minorities in challenge classes because of the AVID program. I think that is a really positive change.”