“Why do we have to learn this?” is the question posed to teachers several times a year. Students who lack the trust or patience to engage during some lessons might allow this question to roll through their minds. 

However, when Chehalis Middle School teachers Josie Peterson and Kevin Dickson face their AVID students, there is no doubt that each skill being taught will help students navigate their world with much more success.

AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a college-readiness program designed to help students develop the skills they need to be successful in college. It emphasizes writing skills, critical thinking, teamwork, organization, and reading skills.

“AVID lessons teach students strategies which help them be successful in school AND in life,” says Peterson. “We work on critical thinking, note-taking, and public speaking, but we also work on life skills – like being a good citizen, and a caring friend.”

The class is an elective for 7th and 8th grade at CMS. It’s designed for students who need some extra support, but not through a special education program. They may be unorganized, or just not succeeding in their other classes. Students must apply, and then be interviewed for consideration. It takes commitment, and a desire to someday go to college. 

There are two elective AVID classes taught at CMS. Ms. Peterson’s colleague, Kevin Dickson is in his second year as an AVID teacher. Each has participated in specialized training to become AVID teachers. Peterson, a math teacher, and Dickson, a Spanish teacher have taken on this additional course because they want to see all students have an opportunity for success.

“We have a fabulous teaching staff,” says Director of Student Achievement Rick Goble. “They are so dedicated. They put in extra time and energy needed to break down barriers for students.”

And Mr. Dickson is seeing results. He often hears comments from colleagues who talk about the strategies they see students applying. The AVID curriculum focuses on building skills and developing behaviors that lead to success. Students learn skills like note-taking, reading and writing strategies, and how to interact with peers and work in groups. “These are skills for use in other classes,” says Dickson. “What they learn gives them a head start – and confidence.”

For example, AVID students research a college or trade school they think they might want to attend. The project is self-directed, but sometimes students end up working with a partner, or in small groups with similar interests. This kind of research helps students, when later in the school year they take a field trip to a college campus. The reality of college as a possibility begins to sink in.

“The idea that all Chehalis students should be prepared for life after high school is not new,” says Goble. The primary goal of the school district’s Student Achievement Initiative (SAI) is to ensure students are fully prepared to earn some kind of credential after graduating from W. F. West High School. “Providing teachers with training in AVID strategies is just one part of our SAI program – and it’s a very important part,” says Goble. “Ms. Peterson and Mr. Dickson are great AVID teachers. They represent the nearly one hundred Chehalis teachers across the district who have recently attended special training in the instructional strategies we know helps students grow and succeed.”

When asked, the CMS teachers will tell you it’s more than just using good teaching strategies – it’s about connecting with kids. They will tell you their AVID classes have grown to become much like family. They have conversations as a whole class, like a family meeting, to help students struggling in other classrooms. “Wildcat Time is a good example of this kind of time,” says Dickson. “We have so many teachers at CMS who connect with kids. We are able to provide support in addition to the counselors, to help students navigate life.”

During Wildcat Time, a shortened period held each day, teachers guide students in using Naviance, an online tool that helps students identify their strengths and interests and make informed decisions about possible careers. They also use Character Strong curriculum, which focuses on social and emotional learning, self-management, and responsible decision-making. This is also the time teachers use to teach organizational skills, conduct binder checks, and help students get prepared for success in all other classes.

“There are many many layers to this work,” says Goble. “AVID training and the strategies teachers learn and then practice helps us ensure all students are getting what they need to prepare for careers, college, and life.”

To learn more about the Student Achievement Initiative (SAI), visit the district website at chehalisschools.org/sai/ and to learn more about Achievement Via Individual Determination (AVID) visit chehalisschools.org/avidcsd/