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AVID for a better education

October 25, 2005|By By Michael Miller

In her classroom Wednesday at Newport Harbor High School, teacher Jennifer Thompson asked sophomores to suggest ways of overcoming a hot temper. Around the room, students offered up ideas -- some with their hands raised, some without.

"For temper, you can just use it in a sport."

"Stress balls."

"You can always think of what you say before you say it."

The final response got the biggest laugh: "You could go in front of the mirror and yell at yourself."

The class may have looked like an anger management session, but in fact it was the Advancement Via Individual Determination program -- better known as AVID -- that targets students at risk of failing school and prepares them for standardized tests, college and careers. For the Wednesday lesson, students had filled out journals in which they cited personal flaws, and now they sought ways to fix them.

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"We were learning about things we do to attract attention that are bad," explained Ashley Gonzalez, 15, of Costa Mesa.

Her own journal entry, she said, was about her sometimes contentious relationship with her parents. Her solution: Rather than get mad, write her problems down in a journal and show it to them.

AVID, now in its 10th year at Newport Harbor High, gives a boost to students who have any number of obstacles to overcome. Some are English-learners, have flirted with gangs or have to work to support their families. Moreover, many come from families without strong backgrounds in education. Last year, 26 of the 28 seniors in the program became the first generation in their families to attend college.

To enter AVID, which begins in eighth grade, students must garner teacher recommendations and go through an interview process. Advisor Angela Newman said the program initially centered around Latino males but has grown more diverse over the years, with white and female students entering the mix.

"They [parents] are opening up to the idea of their daughters going to college rather than just getting out of high school," she explained.

Some members of AVID have compared it to a family, in which seniors mentor freshmen and graduates even come back to serve as tutors. Last year, the program produced the first Latino student body president in the school's history, Juan Vazquez.

Thompson's students, most of whom were struggling two years ago, said being in the program had sharpened their academic skills.

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