Outside educators get a look at what makes Modesto High students AVID

AVID about college at Modesto High

About 30 educators from around California visit Modesto High School to see its acclaimed AVID program in action.
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About 30 educators from around California visit Modesto High School to see its acclaimed AVID program in action.

Modesto High School staff and students welcomed about 30 educators from around California this week to see its AVID program in action.

It was the first “showcase” day for the school since the nonprofit AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program named Modesto High a nationwide demonstration school this spring. AVID, an international program, reports it’s in 6,000 U.S. schools, working with nearly 2 million students, and trains 70,000 educators annually “to close the opportunity gap, so they can prepare all students for college, careers and life.”

MHS, which implemented AVID in 2002, is the only demonstration school in Stanislaus County, and one of 38 statewide. It was awarded the status by a visiting validation team that noted high levels of student engagement, strong collaboration practices, student empowerment and other achievements.

Sue Blickenstaff, AVID coordinator at Modesto High, said 100 percent of AVID seniors graduate and apply to at least one four-year university, and 100 percent are accepted to and attend either a two- or four-year university.

Of Modesto High’s 2,537 students this school year, 528 are in AVID. And of those AVID kids, 80 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

When Mo High began AVID, it focused on students who would be the first generation in their families to attend college, Blickenstaff said. Now, it helps students “across the board” who have a goal of pursuing higher education.

“They may be first-generation college, teen parents, foster children,” she said. “We have IB (International Baccalaureate program) students who need a bit of extra support to keep up with the increased pace and rigor of the program. We also have students who just want a little support and reinforcement as they pursue post-high school goals they have.”

Freshman Addie Overbey, who helped lead one group of educators on a tour Monday, is an IB and AVID student who said the tutoring she gets through the latter program helps her succeed in the former. Also, in all her classes, she takes notes using AVID strategies called focused note taking and Cornell notes.

Another student, senior Jessica DeLira, told a visiting educator that AVID is worth the commitment it requires. She’s learned to “hone in” on what has her stuck and “move past that and learn from it.” She’s learned to be more independent and has gained confidence as she prepares for college, she told Martin Macias, superintendent of the Golden Plains Unified School District in the Fresno County city of San Joaquin.

The visitors — some of them veteran AVID educators, some from schools just beginning the program — toured classes employing strategies with names including Jigsaw, Carousel and Socratic Seminar.

Jigsaw, as the name suggests, approaches learning like a puzzle. Students deconstruct information into smaller parts and work together to learn about the whole, according to an AVID summary.

Teacher Carol Negranza, using Carousel in her government/economics class for seniors, said the strategy is great for end-of-unit reviews. “I could just run off nine worksheets and they could sit there and do them, but the collaborative structure allows them to get up and move around,” she said of Carousel.

In groups, and with a timer running, students move from station to station, open a folder and complete a task. “It keeps things more lively, they’re more awake ... It keeps the energy level higher when you do Carousel vs. just doing worksheets,” Negranza said.

Modesto City Schools has AVID programs in place at all middle schools and three high schools: Modesto, Davis and Downey.

At Mo High, more than half the teachers are AVID-trained,” Blickenstaff said. There are five pillars to AVID, she said: writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and critical thinking. It also helps students develop their “soft skills,” including time management and goal setting, she said.

“Because these strategies work so well, they’re woven into content areas, so we’re finding non-AVID teachers benefit from the strategies as much as AVID teachers do, and non-AVID kids, too,” Blickenstaff said. “The strategies are really best practices, and good for any student.”

One of the visiting educators Monday was Annette Brown of Golden Valley High School in Merced. It’s an AVID demonstration school of about 10 years and is up for revalidation, she said.

“We’re looking at what they’ve (Modesto High) done to take AVID sitewide,” she said, “because that’s really a place we need to make a move.”

Brown said she likes what she saw in MHS classrooms and was most impressed with the school’s AVID tutorial center, which has peer tutors available throughout the school day.

The obstacle to expanding AVID in Modesto City Schools is cost, district spokeswoman Becky Fortuna said. But under new Superintendent Sara Noguchi, it’s something the district will be looking at.

“AVID is an amazing program,” Fortuna said, “and we would love to have it in place at all of our high schools.”

To learn more about AVID, go to and