Last night's School District U46 Board of Education meeting was standing room only -- a little unusual for a meeting at which the school board is not expected to make any controversial decisions.
(Although, one public commenter did question whether Superintendent Jose Torres' recent trip to China had been taxpayer-funded. Answer: Here, in today's cover story, "U46 schools chief gathers food for thought during trip to China.")
It appears a good chunk of that crowd had turned out to hear two middle school students speak about the successes they've had in the Elgin school district's AVID program.
Lest you think your comments fell on deaf ears, girls... Or were you left wanting to learn more about AVID, grown-ups... I wrote at length about the program last school year. That article no longer is available online, so I've posted it, in full, after the jump.
Click here to read "Program creating ' AVID' learners," more information about school board meeting coverage on Twitter, after the jump.
Program creating ' AVID' learners
Average students getting collegepreparation through class
Thursday, September 9, 2010
By Emily McFarlan, firstname.lastname@example.org
CARPENTERSVILLE - During a recent sophomore AVID elective class at Dundee-Crown High School, the students were the ones standing at the chalkboards and whiteboards, chalk and dry-erase markers in hand.
Around the classroom in small groups, students were the ones asking the questions, too.
And it was students - working together - who were finding the answers.
It's called a tutorial. And it's a "mainstay" of the AVID system, which targets students in the academic middle and focuses them on college as early as sixth grade, according to Dundee-Crown coordinator Richard Bogue.
This is the third year AVID - Advancement Via Individual Determination - has been offered in Community Unit School District 300, and the second year in Elgin School District U46. This is the year the Carpentersville-based district will begin comparing standardized test scores of students both in and outside the college preparatory program, and the first time AVID students will see ACT scores.
But even without that data, students, teachers and administrators in both school districts said anecdotally the program is helping participants' grades, test scores and - perhaps most importantly - confidence.
"The kids we've had the whole time, they're making the grade," Bogue said.
In AVID, "We take kids who would not be accelerated and we start accelerating them," said Tom Hay, District 300 associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
Those students take an AVID elective class, where they discuss what they're learning in student-led "Socratic" seminars, find answers to homework and standardized test questions in tutorials, and are taught organizational skills they can apply in all their classes. They enroll in honors and AP (advanced placement) courses. They meet with counselors to set personal goals and plan fundraisers for field trips to visit colleges.
"It's really helpful," said Nancy Conejo, 15, of Carpentersville. "A lot of people complain, but at the end of the year, they have the skills to help them. It will help them in life."
Now a sophomore, she has been with program since the beginning. She was recommended by a teacher as an eighth-grader at Carpentersville Middle School in the 2008-09 school year.
"When they explained to me it was about college, I wanted to take the opportunity to go to college," she said.
Neither of her parents went to college, and it wasn't something she was thinking about at the time. Her older sister may become the first in her family to go, but said she hasn't had the same opportunities for scholarships that Conejo has had.
Conejo was excited to get a brochure in the mail from DePaul University in Chicago after visiting the school with her class, although she hasn't decided yet where she wants to go or what she wants to be.
"I'm into helping people," she said. "I like helping with little kids. I like when people ask me to help and rely on me."
About 150 students are in the AVID program at Dundee-Crown, and 709 in grades six to 11 across District 300, according to Hay. That's expanded from an initial enrollment of 350 students in grades seven, eight and nine in the district.
Many of the juniors in teacher Dianne Kraus' AVID elective were testing below their grade level on the EXPLORE test when they entered high school, Kraus said. According to the results of the ninth-grade PLAN test, almost all those students now are making the grade, she said.
Both tests are part of the ACT testing system, predictors of how students will do on the college entrance exam, and many of her students are testing at ACT levels, Kraus said.
And, Hay added, "They're getting stronger every year."
That's notable, as school districts 300 and U46 both have expressed disappointment with the average composite ACT scores by the current senior class, announced last month. Both remained unchanged from the year before - 19.6 in U46 and 20.4 in District 300, of a possible 36. And both are below the state (20.7) and national (21) averages, and the districts' goals.
The Carpentersville district is starting to take some of the best practices it has learned from AVID and push those out across all its classrooms - even those that aren't part of the program, Hay said. And some U46 schools are incorporating AVID organizational practices, such as Cornell note-taking, into their strategic plans, according to Greg Walker, associate superintendent for secondary education in the Elgin district.
In U46, AVID has expanded from the first years of middle and high schools last year to seventh to 10th grade this year at all middle and high schools in the Elgin school district. That puts a total of 1,192 students in the district's program.
Principal Al Tamburino at Kimball Middle School in Elgin said about 110 students are enrolled in it at his school. And while the district is "still learning about the program," he said, one clear benefit has emerged.
"I think the biggest thing we see is the confidence in the kids," he said.
Conejo took the PLAN test last year as a freshman. She'll find out her scores this year, but she said she knows the preparation she got in AVID already has helped.
"It made me feel better, more confident in myself," she said.
Copyright 2010, The Courier News. All rights reserved.
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For live coverage -- and additional information that may not always make it into the newspaper -- of school board meetings, follow education reporter Emily McFarlan on Twitter at @mcemilywrites. You also can follow -- and participate in -- hashtags #U46mtg during U46 school board meetings and #D300mtg during Community Unit School District 300 Board of Education meetings.
- Here's a list of U46 school board meeting dates.
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-- Emily McFarlan, Readers' Reporter