• Breaking and Entering into Honors Classes

    Posted by AVID Center on 7/25/2019

    MCS with Student Here’s a little inspiration to get you fired up for the new school year! In 1980, some of the educators at Clairemont High School had low expectations for the students who were going to be bussed in from disadvantaged areas of San Diego in the coming school year. Mary Catherine Swanson, English department head and teacher, saw things differently, and went on to found AVID. The following story is adapted from Wall of Fame: One Teacher, One Class, and The Power to Save Schools and Transform Lives.

    September 1980

    Two weeks before school started, Mary Catherine came to the counseling office to register her AVID Elective students for honors classes.

    “I’m sorry, but the algebra section is filled,” Margaret Walsh, counselor for the gifted students, informed her.

    “How about advanced history?”

    “That’s filled, too.”

    “And English? As department chair, I should have some say.”

    “They’re all filled.”

    Mary Catherine fumed. “The whole purpose of integration is to challenge all students with academic rigor and support them to succeed! If they are shut out of honors classes, they’ll be stuck in the remedial track leading to less opportunities after high school. Why bus them across town if only to exclude them from the best Clairemont has to offer?”

    The counselor listened sympathetically, then shrugged. It was out of her hands.

    “You know good and well that if they were ‘gifted’ students, the school would open up more honors sections for them!” Mary Catherine cried. “We have to find a way around this.”

    Margaret smiled slyly, lifting a key out of her drawer.

    The Sunday evening before the Monday when kids were to enroll, Margaret turned the key in the lock of the back office and opened the cabinet that held the registration records. Mary Catherine sneaked into the files and placed her students’ names at the top of the lists for advanced classes. Secretly, they locked up and went home.

    Monday morning, students jammed into the gym for registration. They were given computer cards, which were punched as they moved from table to table, only if their names were found on the pre-registration lists. AVID students were placed first in every advanced class. Soon, the class sections filled up. Mysteriously, the “gifted” students had been shut out! Outraged parents raised a stink and, sure enough, the system responded to the demands of well-connected parents and more advanced sections were created – just as Mary Catherine had predicted.

    Using guerilla tactics to brainstorm, design, recruit, fund, decorate, and register kids for an ambitious college readiness program in four short months, Mary Catherine had subverted the system to provide equal opportunities for her new students. She was already breaking the rules and school hadn’t started yet. In September of 1980, the AVID experiment was just beginning.

    You can learn more about the history of AVID here.



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