The Birth of a New DreamPosted by AVID Center on 9/19/2018
By Deb Tietjen, EL Coordinator, Garland ISD
Have you ever experienced a moment when time stood still long enough for your brain to etch a scene into your memory with clear, vibrant detail?
One of those moments happened to me in the spring of 2014 in the cafeteria of O’Banion Inspiration Academy in Garland, Texas. It was a big night. With an enthusiastic nod from our school board, Garland ISD became the first district in Texas to adopt AVID Excel. The campus, led by Principal John Tucci and our AVID Excel teacher, Victoria Buloran, worked tirelessly to promote and recruit students and families for AVID Excel. Now, tonight was the night, the moment of truth where we would ask students and parents to make a two-year commitment to a program never seen in a Texas school. As the parents and students trickled into the cafeteria, they waited patiently for the AVID Coordinator, Melissa Ramirez-Pham, to begin the presentation. Melissa was enthusiastic, and we had prepared a slide deck full of facts and figures in colorful charts and graphs, but Melissa decided to go off script and ad lib. I’ll never forget her saying to the students, “Students, stand up and look your parents in the eye and say this, ‘I am going to college.’”
At first, the kids mumbled and shuffled their feet as they began to repeat the words, but within a few seconds, the sound in the room changed. The shuffles and mumbles turned into excitement and conviction as each soon-to-be scholar looked their parent in the eye and spoke those words. Suddenly, these students were no longer repeating a statement; they were speaking into existence the reality of a brand-new dream for their family. This was the moment when time stood still for me, and I saw their faces—not just the faces of the crowd, but each individual face. I witnessed the reality of that statement flooding into each person in the room. This new reality started with smiles—the kind a parent gives a child they love—but then those smiles rapidly changed into something else, something much more profound. This was the birth of a new dream, a dream that had not been spoken before this very moment. It was a dream that combined pride, hope, amazement, and longing into one emotion. For many in the room, the birth of this new dream manifested itself in tears. Smiling, hopeful tears.
For Garland ISD, AVID Excel was and is the answer to a problem we were unable to solve. Our system was failing our long-term English learners (LTELs). Approximately 60% of our LTELs were not making it to their high school graduation, and the majority of those who did graduate were on the minimum state plan, which limits access to higher education other than community colleges. AVID Excel is helping us change those statistics. The mission of AVID Excel is to change the trajectory of LTELs’ lives by accelerating language acquisition, developing academic literacy, and placing them on a path to high school AVID and college-preparatory coursework.
Nationally, 96.4% of AVID Excel students in eighth grade are recommended for college-prep courses in high school. While Garland ISD is chasing this goal, over 86% of our AVID Excel eighth graders are recommended for the high school AVID program and a college-prep course. The transition from AVID Excel to high school AVID is a complex task that requires continual monitoring and refining and was one piece of the process we struggled with. Garland ISD is one of the few school districts in the nation where students have choice of school; therefore, we do not have set feeder patterns. Students attending the same middle school could end up attending seven different high schools. Tracking these students and alerting the high school AVID coordinator to their incoming AVID Excel students is critical. There is a direct correlation between that communication and monitoring and the success of our high school students.
This year, we hope to have a touch point each month, so our AVID Excel teachers can inquire about the process of their former students. We think this monitoring piece will support the transition of our AVID Excel students into high school. Last year, our AVID Excel teachers really focused on supporting the scheduling process. They worked with each student and their campus counselor to develop four-year graduation plans. They encouraged the students to self-advocate for the courses they wanted. Students need to take challenging courses to be in high school AVID, but for an LTEL, that course might not be AP English. We believe having the AVID Excel teachers support our students during the scheduling process will help our students succeed academically and stay in AVID through high school graduation. In 2018–19, our first class of AVID Excel scholars, those seventh graders from the O’Banion cafeteria, will be juniors in high school, where they are supported and nurtured by high school AVID Elective teachers. These teachers are helping them turn their seventh grade dream to go to college into a goal, then into a reality.
According to Jesse Owens, “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” That’s what AVID Excel does: It builds the dream, then supports students as they learn the dedication, self-discipline, self-advocacy, and tenacity to turn the dream into a reality. This year, Garland ISD will provide over 270 students with the opportunity for Advancement Via Individual Determination. Won’t you join us?
Deb Tietjen is the EL Coordinator for Garland Independent School District in Texas. She has been educating English learners for 25 years and is a mom and grandma.