by ALEXANDRA RETTER
To clear up something confusing from a class, students present a question to fellow students. Those students then ask their classmate questions to help them solve the problem themself. Teacher Amber Mlynczak witnessed students start to learn this process in seventh grade and progress to mastering it by 12th grade. “It’s been wonderful to see students’ growth within that process,” she said.
Mlynczak’s students are in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, and Mlynczak serves as Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) AVID coordinator. AVID is a teaching and learning philosophy and a set of strategies for helping students that is based on reading, writing, collaborating, and asking questions. “It’s holding kids to a high standard, something that challenges them to rise to their highest ability … while we’re giving them academic and social support within their classes or within the AVID elective course,” Mlynczak said.
The district has offered AVID programming in electives for several years and is working to expand its strategies throughout WAPS.
“I think giving kids opportunities to choose their path when they’re done here is the most important piece, so that there’s nothing getting in the way of what’s out there for them …. I also think that when we hold kids to a high expectation, or we help them believe that they can meet a high expectation, that they will,” Mlynczak added.
WAPS has AVID elective classes, which provide extra support for students who are in the “academic middle,” have barriers to reaching their highest potential, and may not have the same opportunities as other students. The goal is to help prepare students for college and careers. Students go through an application process to be part of the elective.
The elective is offered for seventh through 12th graders as a year-long class, and sixth through eighth grade middle school students also have opportunities to take quarter-long AVID classes. In the quarter-long classes, students start to learn how to have collaborative conversations through methods such as Socratic seminars and begin to learn about different post-high school paths, Mlynczak said.
Students in AVID classes also learn strategies such as numbering paragraphs and highlighting unfamiliar words in texts to help with reading them.
Students in year-long AVID classes have tutorials frequently and learn about annotating texts, asking questions, and speaking in front of a group, Mlynczak said.
Students also take part in community service, visit college campuses, and hear from guest speakers about different post-high school paths.
Tenth graders Savannah Sadler and Hailey Stoltman have been in AVID classes since seventh grade. Sadler said she has appreciated being in the group with some of the same people since middle school. Sadler and Stoltman have also appreciated visiting college campuses in Winona and La Crosse, Wis., through the program. Stoltman said she has learned that “taking notes is important” and enjoyed lessons where she had a limited amount of time to answer a prompt in writing.
The elective classes have been around for seven years, Mlynczak said. There are about 70 students in the electives in ninth through 12th grade and about 65 in the electives in seventh and eighth grade.
The district is working to transfer some of the teaching and learning strategies used in the electives to all classes. That work has been taking place over the last three years, Mlynczak said. Per the district’s strategic plan, the goal is to fully implement AVID districtwide by the start of the 2025-2026 school year.
Those strategies focus on writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading. These are “best practice” strategies, Mlynczak said, that education research has shown work for students. “And what we’re trying to do, when it comes to AVID schoolwide, is use those same strategies across the board in all our classrooms so students are seeing similar ways of learning … or some of the same strategies so they become familiar with it so they can jump right into the learning process faster,” she said. On a day-to-day basis in the classroom, students may highlight the text they are reading and talk about the material they highlighted with another student, middle school AVID and social studies teacher Stacy Gobler said. They annotate texts and group information into smaller subjects, Mlynczak said. They also take part in academic discussions. To practice discussing different sides of issues, students may take part in a debate where, after choosing a stance, they must reiterate a statement made by another student to show they listened to and understood it. Students practice note taking, as well, with materials such as graphic organizers, she said. Then, students spend time revisiting the notes, perhaps talking with a partner about them to see if there is any information they missed and should add to theirs, Mlynczak said. Gobler is also discussing ways to ask questions with her students to help them learn how to ask deeper ones.
“I think honestly the more you can get kids collaborating and having academic conversations, the better they’re going to be moving forward, especially into high school and then as an adult,” Gobler said.
Teachers help students stay organized with binders and planners. They also have information on their whiteboards about what questions students will work to answer that day in class.
To start implementing AVID schoolwide, teachers have worked together and attended trainings, Mlynczak said.
Gobler and Mlynczak both said a challenge with AVID is funding, as the entire education field faces funding struggles. Gobler also said that for new teachers who recently graduated, they likely would not have received instruction on AVID in college, so training is required.