There’s only one way to tackle college-level work in high school: together
"I've learned to think as part of a team, and I've learned to be quiet and think on my own." - GHS Sophomore Aniya Johnson
Earning a college degree in high school isn’t easy.
Just ask Rudolfo Pena, one of the 21 Early College High School (ECHS) sophomores working toward their Associate’s Degrees in Engineering.
“These courses are tough, and I couldn’t do it without the help from the others in here,” he said. “I remember a math problem I couldn’t solve, and the thing that made me understand it was when (my fellow students) got up and wrote different examples on the board, I was able to see the problem in a different way and solve it.”
Rudolfo and his fellow ECHS students are the trailblazers in one of GISD’s new initiatives designed to provide a highly advanced academic pathway in high school. They embarked on the journey in the fall of 2018, and they go through the entire school day together. When they graduate as seniors, they will have spent four years together as a cohort.
“We’re a family. We learn together. We enjoy debating current events, and we disagree all the time,” Miranda Hines said. “It took us awhile to be able to feel confident enough to debate, but now we do it all the time. The most important thing is that, even when we don’t agree, we know we can count on each other.”
Having the time during the school day to establish the advanced learning habits it requires to keep up with high-level work requires time, which is why an entire class period every day is set aside for AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination).
The various elements of AVID include helping students develop their skills in:
- Taking and organizing their notes using the Cornell note-taking system
- Public speaking and communication
- Teaching and tutoring one another
“It’s amazing to see these kids helping each other and advocating for themselves,” ECHS Chancellor Casey Chaney said. “Collaboration is one of the most fundamental things. The students really do work together in a number of ways. They work together in various teams, in tutoring, in notetaking and in developing study skills.”
One thing they don’t do is take shortcuts.
“When we’re tutoring, instead of giving them the answer, we work with whoever’s up there at the board to understand what they get and what they don’t get yet,” Aalexiah Nixon said. “Instead of giving them the answer, we go through our notes and different ways to figure it out. When you’re teaching, you learn with them. When I’m helping someone, I feel smart.”
Ask students about their organizational habits, and they all point to their red binders, complete with dividers, detailed notes, grades and work.
“Using my AVID binder to keep me organized,” Lizzy Doty said. “I think AVID has really helped me with my procrastination. Because in middle school, it was really bad. I would get all my assignments turned in at the last minute. Now I don’t fall behind and lose my work.”
Communication is also an area of focus in the AVID classroom. One unit emphasized current events, and students watched and discussed CNN10, which features three stories on various topics.
“It sparks such great conversation about what’s going on in the world,” teacher GISD Continuing Education Coordinator and teacher Rebekah Russler said. “We also look at articles and do summary responses and things like that, and it allows them to really dig into what they think about current issues. I think they’re all finding a stronger voice. It provides a different opportunity for connections in different content areas.”
Looking at topics from multiple points of view helps students develop critical thinking and the ability to respectfully exchange opinions, Yanely Espindola said.
“I can think for myself and speak for myself instead of being told what to think or what to say,” she said. “It has really helped with public speaking. I hated public speaking before. Now I can walk up to an adult and I know how to present myself.”
Aniya Johnson said her AVID training has taught her new ways of brainstorming and concentrating.
"I've learned to think as part of a team, and I've learned to be quiet and think on my own," she said.
Several of the students said they wish they’d started AVID sooner, which is why it’s now available to Greenville Middle School students.
“Sometimes, students’ schedules are so packed, they don’t have the time to establish good organizational and study habits,” Chaney said. “Those are the skills we really need in order to be strong students, strong learners and to be successful in college.”