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CUSD kids gear up for career, college

Some of the Claremont Unified School District’s youngest students are becoming very avid about going to college.

The increase in academic ambition comes after a move last year to bring the AVID college-readiness program—which was already at El Roble Intermediate and Claremont High School—down to the elementary school level.

AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a program dedicated to closing the achievement gap. Established 30 years ago, it’s a support curriculum teachers can use to help students plan ahead for career and college and take the steps needed to succeed in both.

At Vista del Valle and Oakmont elementary schools, students in the fourth through sixth grades embarked on the AVID curriculum last year. This year, Sumner Elementary School signed on and Vista and Oakmont students in the third grade became AVID students. Next year, Oakmont’s second graders will join AVID and, should Vista’s second-grade teachers agree to take on the program, they will follow suit.

AVID first reached the elementary school level in 2007 and has since trickled all the way down to kindergarten. Vista principal Dave Stewart says kudos are owed to the district which—recognizing the dividends of the program—has shown support for expansion of the program.

“Instituting AVID came out of conversations with parents and staff members about wanting to set the bar high for our kids, especially those students that are high-performing and doing well,” he said.

At Vista del Valle, AVID students focus on “writing to learn,” an idea that dovetails nicely with the writing-centric new Common Core State Standards. “Inquiry” is encouraged, with students urged to ask the kind of deep questions that lead to true subject understanding.

AVID students do lots of “collaboration,” echoing the kind of teamwork that is demanded in today’s workplace. Kids learn to “organization” by keeping daily schedules of their activities, assignments and priorities.

“A lot of times kids procrastinate because they think, ‘Oh, my God, that project is so huge.’ If a kid has a project that’s not due for two weeks, we help them plan that out.’ We’re helping promote more forward thinking and better planning.”

One of the best aspects of AVID is its bang for the buck. The district pays for teacher trainings and the schools provide some simple support materials. Most of the implementation is a matter of mindset. AVID schools hold regular articulation meetings with El Roble and CHS to make sure they are preparing kids for the next step.

The numbers bear AVID’s efficacy. The percentage of Claremont kids who have had at least two years of AVID that qualify for a 4-year college is 90 percent, whereas the national average is 35 percent.

Oakmont Principal Stacey Stewart is a huge fan of AVID.

“Oh my gosh, it’s been awesome,” she said. “It’s never too early to start thinking about college. And now, it’s not just like these students can picture it. It’s beyond that at this point. They will actually tell you where they want to go to college.”

Not long ago, Mr. Stewart was amused to hear a conversation between students eating lunch.

“A student said they wanted to go into medicine and mentioned a college and a kid across the way said, ‘You don’t want to go there. They don’t have a very good medical program,’” Mr. Stewart said. “Here they are, in fifth grade, evaluating colleges.”

The multi-purpose rooms at Oakmont and Vista are emblazoned with college banners and every other Friday, the staff and students at both schools are urged to don spirit wear celebrating their favorite college. Parents regularly speak in the classrooms at both schools about their careers and the steps they used to secure them.

Students at Oakmont have taken a field trip to Pomona College to see what it’s like to be on a college campus. They looked at the course schedule and filled out an agenda with courses they might like to take in college, as well as clubs they might want to belong to.

Asked what AVID means to her, Jazmin Lopez, a Vista 6th grader, was succinct: “If I had to put it one word, it means success.”

This is the first year that Jazmin’s classmate, Albert Arnold, 11, has been at Vista.

“I need to keep my mind on the goals I have set more than talking, and on my grades,” he said. “I want to become a doctor. Once I hit junior high and high school, I’ll want to start taking biology courses. And I want to go to USC.”

Earlier this year, at an AVID showcase held on the Vista campus, Jazmin’s father took a moment to share a touching anecdote.

Thanks to the influence of AVID, Jazmin, on her own initiative, obtained posters and pennants promoting colleges from her guidance counselor mother. She then opted to take down the pin-ups of the boy band One Direction, trading them for university swag hyping schools like Biola, St. John’s and Alabama State.

“You do all this work. It makes it worthwhile when you hear about the dreams they have,” Mr. Stewart said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com