K-12 leadership development chair for the MHA Foundation, Jennifer Smith sat down recently with Payson High School principal, Jeff Simon to talk about the exciting launch of the AVID initiative in the middle school and high school.  AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. It’s purpose is to instill in young students self motivation and a drive toward excellence in academics with an eye focused on college and career. It began by looking at the hugely successful ASPIRE program which offers dual credit opportunities for high school students, and sought to extend beyond, to try to develop a plan for a feeder program that would prepare younger students to become ready for future success once they become of age to enter ASPIRE. Thus was the AVID initiative conceived.

The MHA Foundation started AVID with a dream to come alongside students to give them resources and support to help students prepare for the more rigorous demands and expectations that come with entering the advanced pace of the ASPIRE program. The goal was reaching the “center” demographic of students, who have perhaps previously gotten less attention, and plugging them into the equation, assisting them to fulfill their potential to become fully-invested high achievers.

In a series of brainstorming sessions, Simon, Smith, and the MHA Foundation K-12 leadership committee began to go from concept to prospect to realization. Simon had, at another school, previously worked with a “freshman academy” that had similarities to the idea. He brought this wisdom to the table with regards to curriculum and structure. Rather than the traditional freshman model, which has “mixed” populations in classes, older students as well as the 9th graders, the academy model focuses on freshman and curates their schedules to focus on their upward trajectory. They do this with a team teaching approach and an encouraged sense of freshman solidarity, working together toward a common goal: the ASPIRE program, with college and career at the center of it all. 

Nine teachers attached to the pilot AVID program will be spending this summer receiving specialized professional development training to begin the exciting new initiative with next year’s first round of students. Advanced concepts like critical thinking, inquiry based discussion, note taking skills, and organization are woven throughout each class and become the basis for learning and thinking on a level that is conducive to eventual college and career readiness.

“I think that is going to be powerful” says Simon. “We want them to be able to learn; to know how to apply knowledge in certain situations. We are focused on every single student getting exactly what they need”

Smith adds, “I am really excited to see how this plays out over the course of not only this year, but also in the coming years as the roll out happens, and as each consecutive grade starts building on one another, and as the students start to grow, too.”

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Payson, Arizona 85541

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