Ask David Ramos-Trejo about Bellingham Public Schools’ AVID program and his gratitude pours out. A University of Washington graduate in marketing, Ramos-Trejo had no idea college could be an option for him until he enrolled in Shuksan Middle School’s AVID program his sixth-grade year. As a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, he didn’t know he was eligible for state financial aid and scholarships. He commends the program and his teachers’ support, starting with Melanie Kish Kirkman, for getting him to the college finish line.
“AVID was the stepping stone,” he says. “I couldn’t have done it without it.”
AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a 40-year-old national program for middle and high school students. The curriculum develops college readiness skills through accelerated learning, effective study skills, motivational support, and professional development. BPS adopted it first at Shuksan 15 years ago, expanding to Squalicum High School two years later. Now it’s available at most BPS middle and high schools. Some programs, such as Sehome High School’s, are still small with plans to grow. Fairhaven will have a class next school year.
Designed as an elective class available at each grade level (grades 6-12), the AVID curriculum supports students by teaching things like WICOR strategies (writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading), Cornell notes, and teambuilding exercises.
In middle school, students learn time management, study skills, how to keep up with assignments, and are introduced to college, says Beth Insera, Shuksan AVID site coordinator and AVID staff developer for BPS. By junior and senior year of high school, the curriculum expands to include career path research and, for college-bound students, the college application process, letters of recommendations, and financial aid forms.
The program is open to all students who are motivated and wish to develop the academic skills not only to get into college, but to succeed once they arrive.
“One of the key student attributes is self-determination,” Insera says. “And then we foster their desire and passion by helping them with the college or career path.”
AVID particularly benefits students and families looking for support to navigate the path to post-high school education; for example, students who are the first in their family to attend college or who are from historically underrepresented groups.
Teachers may also encourage students to apply because not all students recognize they’re a good fit for the program, says Kish Kirkman, AVID site coordinator at Whatcom. “For example, students who qualify for the College Bound Scholarship are a perfect fit for AVID, and the program can prepare them to use that scholarship,” she says.
Enrolling in AVID doesn’t necessarily mean committing to a four-year university path. The curriculum aims to make students aware of all kinds of post-high school paths.
“We help students see all their options, so they can make that choice for themselves,” Kish Kirkman says.
Crystal Morales, a 2020 Western Washington University graduate, credits her teachers for boosting her confidence to attend college.
“My teachers were really influential,” she says. “I think what really makes the program is having those teachers who go out of their way for you and help you navigate the college system.”
The sense of student “family” is important too, she says. She’s still close with about 10 AVID classmates. Morales graduated with a degree in human services and Spanish and now works as the BPS Family Resource Center Coordinator at Shuksan Middle School.
Two Bellingham High School seniors, Luis Tovar and Daniel Sanchez, have been part of AVID for years and agree the focused help on applications and scholarships has reduced senior year stress. But they point to the earlier years of learning effective notetaking, organizational skills, and how to be an active learner as key pillars that will serve them throughout college.
“The program really holds you accountable,” Tovar says.
The art of notetaking alone benefits students, says Kati Berreth, BHS AVID site coordinator.
“What is the essential question someone’s trying to teach us? How do we highlight the key ideas?” she says.
Berreth also aims to help students keep all options open, so even if they don’t go to college right now, they see it as a possibility later if they want it.
At Options High School, the program may look a little different from other high schools, says Joe Wooding, who teaches an AVID class for seniors. All students receive AVID strategies as ninth graders, and then senior year, they can take a formal AVID class. Many Options students prefer to transition to work or pursue a path at Bellingham Technical College or Whatcom Community College, Wooding says.
“So, we embrace exploration as a major theme in senior year. What’s your next adventure and how can we help you get there?” he says.
He partners with local community organizations to facilitate networking with the local business community, holding a career fair, and filling out the FAFSA (the federal financial aid form). Fostering local connections gives students additional networking resources after high school, he says.
If you’d like to learn more about AVID, contact your middle or high school’s AVID site coordinator or school counseling staff. Middle and high school counselors will work with students for placement into available spots in AVID classes, which do tend to fill quickly.
Ramos-Trejo encourages all students to consider AVID, advising them: “Don’t think twice.”