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CCSD school fights to keep defunded college-entry program afloat

Back in December, Spring Valley High became the latest school to fight a unilateral administrative change that threatened a beloved program.

On the chopping block was Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which will lose its Title IIA funding next year in favor of professional development for principals instead.

AVID teachers and students — whose zeal for the program rivals that of Beyoncé fans — came out in force against the decision, while describing life-changing possibilities for the students who enroll. (They are rather avid about it.)

For senior Nichole Sammy, the campus tours offered by the program opened her eyes to the possibility of attending college. Fellow senior Emmanuel Nichols said that while he dreaded speaking in public, when he had to do so as part of an AVID activity, he now can do it confidently. And for their peers, writing résumés and FAFSA applications as part of the elective course has helped them land jobs and meet deadlines to go to college.

Now facing the prospect of covering the steep costs of AVID themselves, three schools have opted to shutter their programs instead. Spring Valley, the state’s only AVID Demonstration School, will continue to fund the $3,500 registration fee out of the Las Vegas school’s budget next year, but future training at $900 per teacher plus travel costs is in jeopardy.

Proponents of the program say it’s worth the financial investment and time of teachers and staff because it works: of 110 AVID seniors graduating from Spring Valley in 2019, 107 went directly to college. Of 105 freshman who signed up for AVID, only two chose not to continue as sophomores, and fewer than five didn’t keep their grades high enough to continue in the program.

Director Melanie Wilkerson says AVID welcomes everyone, and that the school would open more sections to accommodate demand. But she added that she looks to recruit low-income or first-generation students in particular, with the program’s 540-strong enrollment also reflecting the ethnic diversity of the school.

The program has built-in features to help first-generation students in its core AVID elective classes, which have a dual function: The first half of class goes over the realities of financing college while the second half functions as a tutoring session, where students bring questions from their other classes to work through in small groups.

Apart from these core classes, all students at Spring Valley experience some level of AVID teaching techniques: In a sports leadership class, students engage in Socratic discussion, politely popcorning off each other to debate a topic laid out by the instructor. In a Spanish class, students play a card game in groups to construct sentences — an activity they say they think back to on assessments.

It all results in 16- and 17-year-olds who carry themselves like their university peers — though I’ve never met a college student willing to take a 6 a.m. class the way some of these kids do.

In his State of Our Schools speech Friday, Superintendent Jesus Jara emphasized that principals are some of the most impactful people on a school campus. The district has also signaled its intention to prioritize equal access to advancement opportunities like GATE, CTE and AP classes, but at least at Spring Valley, AVID doesn’t seem to be suffering from gatekeeping.

Thus the effect of pitting one good thing against another means jeopardizing a program that’s focused on the kind of college and career-focused equity-building the district says it would like to do. And to not only cut the funding for the program but put an end to zone variances for kids who want to be a part of it makes the decision seem almost personal.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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