Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

Changing Young Lives in Alexandria

While watching the movie STEP earlier this fall, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that there are at least two programs for ACPS students that can have this sort of life-changing impact—AVID and ASO Sympatico.

STEP is a documentary about the senior year of a high-school dance team at an all-girls school in Baltimore’s inner city. The team provides a space for girls to find their place away from the poverty, food insecurity or family dysfunction that they may face in their home lives, and away from the pressure to succeed in school and to be accepted to college, which is the goal of this particular public school for 100% of its students. The challenges they face in their quest to win a major step-dancing competition mirror the obstacles they must overcome to be the first in their families to attend college. The movie rings true for Alexandrians who are familiar with the daily struggles and the determined successes of so many of our students.

AVID is a college readiness program (and the subject of a previous blog post) offered as an elective at T.C. Williams High School, both middle schools and Cora Kelly and Patrick Henry  elementary schools. Introduced in Alexandria about eight years ago to help narrow the achievement gap, especially among “first-gen” students in the academic middle, with GPAs around 3.0, AVID provides not only essential study and organization skills, but also the same type of supportive space for underrepresented teens as the Baltimore step team. In addition to the AVID classroom teachers, there are two counselors at T.C. devoted to AVID students. AVID students work together in small tutorial groups, travel together on visits to college campuses, and fulfill their 20 hours of community service together. Four of them were chosen to be student leaders at the AVID Summer Institute, a marquee national training event for teachers.

Having served in the AVID classroom for a few years as a tutor and having watched the program flourish under the direction of Jodie Peters, AVID Director for ACPS, I am thrilled to report some of the stats for the T.C. Class of 2017 AVID students:

  • Nine full college scholarships were offered and accepted.
  • More than $3 million in scholarships were offered.
  • Two students were semi-finalists for the coveted Dell scholarships.
  • 86% took both the SAT and the ACT.
  • 79% had been enrolled in AVID for four or more years.

What began as a course for two dozen students at G.W. and Hammond middle schools now enrolls more than 508 middle- and high-school students, including four sections of ninth- and 10-graders. The program’s basic building blocks, known as WICOR (Writing to learn; Inquiry; Collaboration; Organization; and Reading to learn), are being implemented as best practices school-wide. “Our AVID students need stronger support in how to persist, so we’re upping the ante on writing instruction and helping them understand what constitutes a good piece of college writing,” says Peters. As the program nears its tenth anniversary in ACPS, more students are gaining access to new opportunities, broadening their options, imagining themselves on a college campus, believing in their post-high school potential, and setting themselves up for success. It could be a great documentary!

During a recent conversation with Jodie, I commented to her that the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s Sympatico program at John Adams Elementary School (also the subject of a previous blog post) shares many of the same objectives for serving underrepresented students and generates similar benefits to those students in their academic and social development.

Sympatico is modeled after the music education program called El Sistema that began in Venezuela more than 30 years ago. By seeking social change through systematic, high-quality musical training, El Sistema programs create a space for students to experience the thrill that comes from working toward a shared goal with disciplined and focused effort. There’s no Sympatico documentary yet but please watch this new video about Sympatico. And if you’re a documentary filmmaker and want to break important new ground here, contact me!


Worth Sharing

This video about the loneliness that often accompanies the transition to college was created by a Cornell student as a class project and has gone viral.

Because they would rather hear it from someone other than you….College Advice I Wish I’d Taken was written by a writing professor and appeared recently in the New York Times.

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