Represented within the Cleburne High School Class of 2020 are the first set of AVID graduates — who are now experiencing their first days of college.

Implemented at CHS in the spring of 2017, the inaugural class included a group of 52 freshmen and sophomores, chosen by their teachers to participate in the national Advancement Via Individual Determination program being introduced at their campus.

The primary goal of AVID is to assist schools in developing an equitable student-centered approach, enhancing what is already in place, in preparing all students for college and career. More than 7,500 schools across the nation utilize AVID at the high school, middle school and elementary levels. 

For participants, their AVID journey begins with a celebration ceremony with parents in attendance. Student responsibilities include maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA and meeting expectations relating to conduct, attendance and participation, including taking individual responsibility for their own success. 

A variety of tools are introduced and utilized, including reading strategies, writing activities and collaborative projects, as students develop and enhance their critical and higher level thinking skills. A major tool used by AVID students is the Cornell note-taking process, with participants learning to recognize and document the most important part of a lesson. From their lesson notes, they then create questions to guide their studying and solidify their learning. 

Soft skills are also a piece of the AVID puzzle as students are engaged in public speaking, time management, organization and self-advocacy.

Coleman Elementary School Principal Will Barnes served as Cleburne High School’s first AVID site coordinator. Barnes taught ninth grade social studies at that time and added the AVID elective class to his teaching schedule.

“Teacher recommendations weighed heavily in that first year,” Barnes said. “We asked teachers to consider students who were working their tails off in their classes, but needed some support to get them up to the top B and A levels in their grades. In finding kids who meet the characteristics of an AVID student we look for those with a high work ethic who show a determination to be successful.

“One of the requirements of AVID is to take higher rigor classes. Students are challenged to reach higher, using the tools and soft skills available to them to achieve. Through AVID they also have their own campus family, a place to belong and something to be a part of. AVID provides that supportive, family atmosphere to give students a sense of belonging and a sense of achievement.

“In establishing AVID at CHS, we also wanted to expose students to all the possibilities, whether they would ultimately choose college, the military or go straight into the workplace. That includes college visits to state, private and specialty schools. We’ve taken students to Baylor, Texas A&M, Midwestern State University, Southwestern Adventist University, UT-Arlington and Texas State Technical College.”

Those trips proved to be memorable moments for AVID students and their teachers.

“What was beautiful for a lot of those kids was the opportunity to travel outside of Cleburne,” Barnes said. “To see their awe in walking the campus at TCU, seeing how they could fit in on a campus like that — that they could go there, too. For those who would be the first in their family to go to college, seeing their responses was wonderful. We try to tell our students about the college experience, but seeing it for themselves is tremendous.” 

Lyndie Conner, CISD College and Career Readiness Coordinator and AVID District Director, was also on the ground floor of the program’s establishment at CHS. She was on the counseling staff at that time and was very involved in the program launch. 

“I spent four years as an AVID elementary teacher in Garland ISD,” Conner said. “But It was the first time I got to address students at our AVID Acceptance Ceremony and I’ll never forget their faces. I told them they’d been selected because they were the ‘best of the best.’ It’s always among the highlights of my year to see our honorees come in with their families and sign their AVID contract. It’s a huge celebration of their date to become better than they are. They have chosen to push themselves to achieve their dreams.”

Two of the 2020 AVID graduates who are seeing their dreams of college come true are Garrett and Hayden Ray. The identical twins are going separate ways for the first time in their lives, with Garrett attending Texas A&M University-Commerce and Hayden engaged as a Liberty University online student.

“I heard about AVID and asked a teacher about it,” Hayden said. “I knew it could help you be college ready. In our AVID class we weren’t just handed a paper and told to fill in the blanks. We learned how to take notes, identifying what is important in a class lecture then writing a summary from those notes. It helped me be more prepared for my classes, and what to listen for.”

Hayden said he also liked the Tuesday and Thursday peer tutorials which he says were a great help. This AVID component shows students how to learn through an inquiry process. Each participant uses a ten-step system including engaging fellow AVID members in thinking through a concept they are striving to learn. 

“We had to determine what help we needed, making a ‘point of confusion,’” Hayden said. “Because of AVID I feel I’m a better learner. It also helps kids see what college is about ­— because of AVID you don’t go into college blind. Now I know how to study and be prepared for a test.”

Garrett sought out AVID, believing it would help him get into college and help him with the application process. He will be studying history on the education track, with hopes of becoming an eighth grade social studies teacher. 

“The tutoring part of AVID really helped me, especially in math,” Garrett said. “It also helped me in understanding concepts, studying for exams and with assignments and projects. I thought I knew how to take good notes, but when they took us through the AVID process I found I didn’t.”

“Our AVID teachers watched out for us to see if we were bogged down or overwhelmed,” he said. “Learning time management helped us budget and schedule our time. Some classes or projects take up more time than others. And what you didn’t want to do was wait until the last minute in preparing for finals.”

He credits AVID in helping him, and his brother, “have it all” in mastering their classes, being involved in extracurricular activities — and holding down part-time jobs. Both were members of the Texas Association of Future Educators, advancing to the state level in competitive events three consecutive years. 

“I was also in technical theater and Hayden was in Key Club,” Garrett said. “Throughout our school years we have both tried to do a little of everything to see what we liked. I set goals and told myself if my grades began to fall, my job wasn’t something I would be able to do. When I got off from work, I did my school work instead of playing video games or getting on social media. I was grateful we had 45 minutes for lunch, which gave me time to work on school stuff.”

AVID strives to engage students who may be the first in their family to enroll and graduate from college. While the Ray brothers did not meet that component, with an Associate’s Degree held by their mother and older sister, Sara, enrolled at Sul Ross University, they believed AVID would help them with those same achievements.

“I know AVID helped me get into college, and will help me graduate with a degree,” Garrett said. “If you have no idea about college or how to get into one — it’s for you. I’ve always been organized, but AVID helped me be better at it. That will be important in college, where there will be a whole new level of rigor and expectations. AVID is fun, but there’s a lot of work that goes along with it.”

Four years after AVID was first introduced in Cleburne, it has expanded to include Smith and Wheat middle schools and C.C. Cooke Elementary School.

“We’ve moved from one campus to four,” Conner said. “We’re currently exploring future opportunities to include more elementary schools and our Limited English Proficiency students. We are excited about the things to come. The biggest impact I see so far with AVID, within our district, is the quality of students it has produced. I look forward to seeing that expand as AVID eventually goes districtwide.”

“I know all our 2020 AVID graduates were accepted into college,” Conner said. “So many of them have had to change their college plans due to COVID. Some are now staying home or waiting a year before going on to college. But I’m so proud of what they accomplished.”

Graduation exercises, held at Globe Life Field, were especially meaningful to Barnes who was in attendance. He knew the impact of AVID on those inaugural members and himself as an educator.

“I know a handful of those kids wouldn’t have crossed home plate to get their diploma without AVID, those teachers, the peer support and the strategies,” Barnes said. “I enjoy this profession more having taught AVID. I have more insight into what kids bring to school every day, the challenges they face outside of the learning content. Those kids inspired me and they changed the way I taught my non-AVID classes and the way I relate to kids in general.”

Hayden’s AVID journey isn’t quite over. As an online college student, his schedule will allow him to work with students at CHS as an AVID tutor.

“I’m majoring in religion, with plans to go wherever God needs me,” he said. “I had planned on subbing, but right now, this must be where I’m needed.”

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