AVID’s mission is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society.

Advancement Via Individual Determination


When Mary Catherine Swanson began AVID in 1980, she relied on her fourteen years of teaching experience and research to develop each aspect that was incorporated into the program. Through research and collaboration with postsecondary faculty, she found the important skills necessary for a student to be successful at the postsecondary level. The Cornell note-taking technique, the strong emphasis on academic reading and writing skills, and student collaboration all came from the diligent research of Mary Catherine and her team of teachers and professors.

Mary Catherine Swanson started working as a high school English teacher in 1966, teaching remedial to advanced English classes and began teaching at Clairemont High School in San Diego in 1970. In 1974, she and two fellow English teachers developed an academically rigorous English elective course called “Project English” that included academic rigor and an individualized approach to each student’s unique interests. In 1977 Mary Catherine completed her Master’s thesis in education. In her thesis she identified the key components of a program that could help all students succeed in rigorous English classes. These components form the foundation of AVID, including its philosophy, practices, and curriculum and include:

  1. A non-traditional classroom setting meeting the academic and emotional needs of individual students
  2. The teacher as advisor/counselor/student advocate
  3. An emphasis on objective data
  4. The student at the center of decision-making regarding educational goals
  5. A student contract outlining willingness to work and setting learning goals
  6. Student support from teachers and skilled, trained tutors
  7. A curriculum emphasizing academic reading and writing
  8. Reliance on the Socratic process.


The following are a few milestones throughout AVID’s history. More details about our history can be found in the archives.

1978 | 1980 | 1985 | 1990 | 1995 | 2000 |2005 | 2010 | 2013 | Today


A federal court orders the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to integrate its schools, requiring the district to bus students from more ethnically diverse and lower-income areas to northern schools such as Clairemont High.


A new SDUSD high school that will serve the more affluent half of Clairemont High’s students is finished and will open in 1980. Recognizing a need to change the way Clairemont High teachers will approach their new student body, who will be bussed to the school in 1980, Swanson and fellow English teacher Jim Grove, in collaboration with the University of California San Diego, design a program for the academic middle to prepare them for four-year college entry.


Mrs. Swanson recruits 32 low-income, diverse students in the academic middle (C students) and enrolls them in a college preparatory sequence and an AVID elective class. The AVID Elective includes development of study skills, tutoring in collaborative study groups, and a curriculum focused on reading and writing for learning. Mrs. Swanson continues to teach advanced English and the AVID Elective class at Clairemont High, receiving her first grant of $7,000 from Bank of America to help fund tutors from the University of California in the class.


Recognizing the need for all academic teachers to be involved in AVID’s philosophy and methods, Mrs. Swanson forms the first schoolwide site team in January of 1981. This group meets after school bi-weekly to discuss with students the teaching practices that are most helpful for their learning. Participating teachers design lessons around the methodologies, share them, pilot them, and refine them for schoolwide use. Teachers visit the AVID class to see the practices in action and AVID tutors are sent schoolwide to assist subject area teachers in utilizing the methods.


In response to newly published UC and CSU competencies for entering freshmen, Mrs. Swanson partners with UCSD, SDSU, Point Loma Nazarene, and Mesa College to form the Clairemont Cooperative Academic Project (C-CAP). Collaboratively, the college professors and the Clairemont High teachers publish a compendium of curriculum and teaching methodology and college-prep Writing Guides. These guides are co-taught with college professors on the Clairemont High campus.



The Writing Guides developed in AVID are adopted by the California Department of Education for a direct assessment in writing for all students. Teachers statewide are trained in scoring the papers according to rubrics designed and piloted at Clairemont High. The SDUSD adopts the guides in district-wide Writers’ Assistance Program.

The first group of AVID students graduates from Clairemont, all entering postsecondary education – 28 to four-year colleges and two to community colleges. Schoolwide, students at Clairemont High score 46.6 percentage points higher in English, and in mathematics 35 percentage points higher than students in the other 17 comprehensive high schools in the district. The California Department of Education takes note of the achievement, and State Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Bill Honig visits to recognize Clairemont High.


The AVID C-CAP project wins the National Council of English Teachers’ Award as a National Center of Excellence.  


Mrs. Swanson partners with the San Diego County Office of Education to win state funding to disseminate AVID throughout San Diego County. She publishes the research, curriculum, and pedagogy for wide dissemination. In the fall of 1986, 10 sites are implementing AVID programs and the first formalized AVID professional development is conducted, including AVID Elective teachers, counselors, administrators, and teachers of English, history, mathematics, science, and world languages. By 1987, 30 sites adopt AVID.


A high school validation process is initiated to measure AVID’s success or failure. The measures are schoolwide, including the increase in the numbers of seniors completing California four-year college entry requirements. Teams of AVID Elective and subject area teachers visit one another’s schools to observe if academic classes are employing the AVID methodologies taught at the monthly professional development sessions.



The first school outside San Diego County, Ramona High School in Riverside County, adopts AVID. The first AVID Summer Institute is conducted, which 400 attend. Training strands are offered for administrators, counselors, AVID Elective teachers, tutors, and teachers of English, history, mathematics, science, and world languages. Site team meetings are held in the afternoons. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Bill Honig recognizes AVID schools for more than doubling the number of seniors eligible for four-year college entry and dramatically reducing their dropout rates. Validation studies show that the increase in college eligibility is 141% higher in AVID schools than in non-AVID schools statewide.


AVID is in 45 high schools and 35 middle schools within San Diego County and has spread to Riverside and Whittier as well. In collaboration with the University of California, AVID develops a university Subject A write-off contest called College Ready Writers and trains high school teachers across the curriculum along with college professors in rubrics to score the papers.


Mary Catherine receives the $50,000 Charles A. Dana Award in New York City, the only public school teacher ever to receive the award. The recognition brings widespread attention to AVID and AVID contracts are developed for the state of Kentucky and the Department of Defense Dependents Schools overseas. The Regional Development Center is initiated to train Regional and State Directors from areas outside California. The Dana Foundation provides a grant to establish the first AVID Dissemination Board. San Diego State University adopts a college freshman sequence of support structures for AVID and AVID-type students campuswide. Dr. Hugh Mehan, University of California, researches AVID and finds 88% of AVID’s graduates persisting in college.


With AVID in 340 schools in California, Kentucky, Virginia, and the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS), AVID Center is incorporated as a not-for-profit entity. The first eight AVID Demonstration schools are developed in San Diego County, including high schools and their feeder middle schools. The AVID Summer Institute incorporates middle schools into its sequence of offerings.



The U.S. Department of Education recognizes AVID with a “Breaking the Mold” Award for reaching the goals of America 2000. Independent AVID research begins on the elements that make AVID effective schoolwide. A statewide structure for California is developed by the California Statewide Advisory Board. A Dana Foundation study verified the use of AVID methodologies schoolwide and the Foundation distributes a newsletter encouraging districts to adopt AVID.


AVID is in 414 schools, with school sites in California, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, and the DoDDS. An AVID Eastern Division is established with a part-time director. The California Legislature grants $1 million to establish a statewide AVID program, which is implemented in 1996. AVID begins a middle schools mathematics readiness program with the California State University San Marcos. The scholarly publication ACCESS is initiated, along with the AVID Padres Scholars Program and the Senior Recognition Program. Awareness Workshops and District Liaison trainings are added to professional development. The high school and middle school curricula are updated and AVID adopts a Consultation, Certification, and Networking fee for distribution of the curriculum and direct services.


An AVID California statewide office is formed and Dr. Judy Lookabill is hired as the California State Director with the first statewide funding for the AVID Center and its eight regions. These eventually grew to 11 regions. AVID Center moves from the County office to its own offices. Dr. Hugh Mehan and his associates at the University of California San Diego started researching AVID in 1991; in 1996 they publish their ongoing research on AVID in Constructing School Success.


AVID curriculum is aligned with various state standards and elementary AVID is studied. Certification with Distinction is initiated with AVID Demonstration Schools coming from this group. An official College Board collaboration is established, resulting in Summer Institute training strands for AP subject area courses.



The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation provides funding to support the development of the AVID Central Division, located in Austin, Texas. The Western Division, located in Denver, Colorado, is created. With support from the Annenberg Foundation, AVID Center staff develops AVID Path materials for schoolwide impact. The AVID 11 Essentials are codified and worked into a continuing development certification document. The Certification program expands to include affiliate, certified, and certified with distinction status. All but affiliate status require schoolwide implementation. Curriculum for online AP support in history and English is developed in conjunction with the University of Texas.


AVID Associates are hired and trained to bring targeted assistance to AVID sites and Path Certification is developed.


AVID celebrates its 20th anniversary. AVID is in more than 1,000 schools in 20 states and 13 foreign countries through the DoDDS schools and Canada. The State of California continues to fund the implementation of AVID statewide. The Dana Foundation commissions noted author Jonathan Freedman to write and publish Wall of Fame, a book documenting the development and impact of AVID. AVID is named in the California Advanced Placement Challenge Grant as a partner with the College Board to increase AP offerings in California schools. The Founder’s Award is established as well as Community Service awards. The Economic Development Center of San Diego begins work in AVID classrooms with its CLASS program.


Mary Catherine Swanson is awarded the 2001 Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education; TIME and CNN honor Mary Catherine Swanson as “America’s Best Teacher.” Her story is presented in CNN’s “America’s Heroes.” In strategic planning Schoolwide AVID, Path curriculum and training, and Advanced Placement initiatives are emphasized.



AVID is profiled by CBS 60 Minutes II, which acknowledges AVID as “a fresh idea in education, and an answer to increasing student achievement.” AVID is named one of the top 10 not-for-profits in the U.S. by Worth Magazine.

AVID receives its first of two Advanced Placement Incentive Program grants from the U.S. Department of Education to implement schoolwide AVID and increase Advanced Placement offerings in AVID schools. The Price Foundation funds AVID implementation in New Jersey, and the California Student Aid Commission awards AVID $4.5 million for work with low-income students and accessing financial aid. AVID Center’s working relationship with the College Board culminates in the first annual National Conference co-sponsored by the two organizations. The AVID Elementary program development starts. AVID begins a Superintendent’s Collaborative in conjunction with the College Board to study college curriculum as the default curriculum districtwide. The program is dubbed College by Design.


The strategic plan emphasizes AVID schoolwide/districtwide and superintendent collaboratives. The Advanced Placement Initiative implementing AVID districtwide in four locations throughout the U.S. shows excellent progress in these endeavors. Summer Institutes feature over 40 professional development strands, including a sequenced series from beginning to experienced participants.


To reflect the schoolwide/districtwide focus, AVID’s mission statement is amended to include ALL students with emphasis on those least served in the academic middle. The vision statement is revised to say, “AVID in its first 25 years has proven that, when given a program of academic support and rigor, all students can be academically successful and that by 2023 AVID’s systematic approach will prove that entire schools and districts can prepare ALL students for college readiness.” AVID begins work in two San Diego County school districts on programs to help students at the top and at the bottom to excel in college preparatory work.



On the 25th anniversary of AVID, the AVID program is in 2,280 schools in 36 states and 15 countries, and is serving more than 130,000 students. AVID Center implements a new Certification Report and Self-Study continuum with 11 AVID Essentials, and the Irvine Foundation awards AVID Center a grant to study AVID’s adaptation for 4th quartile ESL students. The State of California continues to fund the implementation of AVID statewide. A study at the University of California shows that 85% of AVID students enrolled there are fully eligible for their sophomore year. The National Conference with the College Board has the theme of Collaborative for School System Leadership and College by Design.


Mary Catherine Swanson retires, and the AVID Center Board names Jim Nelson the new Executive Director. 

The Ceridian Foundation funds AVID expansion for schools in California, Arizona, and North Carolina, and the Girard Foundation provides a grant to develop AVID Demonstration schools in San Diego County.


The Gates Foundation funds a three-year project to implement AVID in 24 New York City schools. The AVID Elementary program is formally launched, and the AVID Center headquarters is relocated to a larger facility in San Diego. The Wachovia Foundation provides additional funding to expand AVID in California and Arizona schools.


The AVID for Higher Education program is developed with support from Traveler’s Insurance and pilot tested in two colleges. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation provides three years of funding to expand AVID in central Texas and to strengthen the AVID curriculum in math and science.

The Citi Foundation starts its support for the development of the AVID African American Male Initiative.



AVID is implemented in its first school district in Australia; and Traveler’s Insurance funds expansion of the AVID for Higher Education program to five colleges throughout the United States.


AVID celebrates its 30th anniversary with 30 commemorative display boards at each Summer Institute featuring AVID development through the years including highlights and innovations. A commemorative yearbook is published profiling AVID students from each of the three decades and featuring photos from the Archives.


AVID is awarded a grant to expand AVID in Australia to help low-income students go to university.


AVID Center provides a transition plan for the approximately 1,400 California schools supporting more than 155,000 students as state funding for AVID is cut for the 2013-14 school year. AVID holds its first Summer Institute (in December) in Australia with nearly 200 participants.


The AVID Board holds a retreat and develops three imperatives to guide the organization: Student Centric, Accelerate Schoolwide, and Urban Imperative. AVID holds one of its nine Summer Institutes in Hawaii for the first time and trains more than 25,000 during the summer. Salem-Keizer (OR) Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sandy Husk is named CEO to replace Executive Director Jim Nelson. She becomes the third person to lead the organization.



Beginning with one high school and 32 students, AVID now impacts more than 1.2 million students in nearly 5,000 schools and 43 postsecondary institutions in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and across 16 other countries/territories. The AVID College Readiness System spans elementary through higher education.

Although AVID serves all students, the AVID Elective focuses on the least served students in the academic middle. The formula is simple—raise expectations of students and, with the AVID support system in place, they will rise to the challenge. What distinguishes AVID from other educational reform programs is its continuous success rate. Of the 34,229 AVID seniors reporting data in 2013, 91 percent reported plans to attend a postsecondary institution: 60 percent to a four-year college and 30 percent to a two-year institution.  Seventy-seven percent reported taking at least one rigorous course, such as AP®, IB®, or Cambridge®, with 66.7 percent taking the corresponding exam. 

Policymakers and school administrators now consider AVID an essential strategy for closing the achievement gap and making the college dream accessible to all students.