NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Leann Norrod has big dreams.
“My goals are to get into Watkins university and get my degree for photography, and then to work for National Geographic,” says Norrod.
But the high school senior didn’t always see herself as college-bound, or even making it out of high school. “Before I just thought what does school matter? I’m going to come in, chill, and maybe graduate if I get there.”
But then, something changed. She enrolled in theat her school and suddenly found herself enjoying her classes, and making goals for herself. AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a program that aims to transform average students into high achievers ready to take on college.
“AVID is a college-readiness system that targets kids in the academic middle and accelerates them and doesn’t remediate them. So we push them up into advanced classes that prepare them for college and give them a support class every single year of high school,” says Jessica Seator, AVID coordinator at Hillsboro High School who also teaches an AVID support class.
In the support class, students work on areas like developing better note-taking skills, organization, and critical thinking. Upperclassmen do ACT prep, practice writing college essays and scholarship applications, and visit college campuses.
“The format of the AVID classroom is different. It’s not a study hall, it’s not just a study skills clas,s or a lesson in how to keep a neat binder. AVID has a curriculum. Then, because we have increased the level of vigor that they’re taking in their classes, we’re going to provide academic support. So we organized the classroom into student led tutorial groups,” says Seator.
“We’re not feeding them that fish as the parable says. We’re teaching them how to fish,” she adds
Leann Norrod says her biggest struggle in school has always been math and science.
“But when we do tutorials…your avid family is there showing you how to get the answers and everything to get to that point,” says Norrod.
Despite the fact that AVID has had a 100% success rate in graduating its students from high school (click here to learn more), some Metro Nashville Public schools had to pull the program due to funding and staffing issues. Jessica Seator of Hillsboro High School gave up her planning period to teach the class. She says she did not want to let her students down, especially since they had already invested in the program from the start of their high school career.
“I found great kids, smart kids who are college material—who may walk a little different, talk a little different, look a little different than your average college going freshman—that that have started the process of changing their academic future,” says Seator.
AVID, however, is more than just a support class for these students; it’s a family. Antorian Moore saw his GPA jump from a 1.9 to 3.5 after enrolling in AVID, but he has found the most value in the relationships he’s built.
“Ms. Seator, she’s like a mother to me. I thought that school was very boring. And Ms. Seator, she makes it exciting. She brings things to the table that other teachers would just give you and go. She actually tries to explain things to us,” says Moore.
“She takes care of us. If you need something and she has it she’ll just gladly give it to you. If you need help, like if you’re having a bad day…she’ll talk to you.”
Seator fought back tears as she explained the larger role she plays in her students’ lives.
“As an avid teacher you do become the mother, father, or parental figure. And it’s not always because the students don’t have that family, it’s because their family don’t have the experience to help them. So yes, having that one teacher who has your back, who’s supporting you, who’s not letting you have excuses? That is the avid family.”
The walls of the AVID classroom frequently remind students of where they would be if it wasn’t for the program. They are surrounded with “cardboard confessionals”—a senior tradition for the students in which they write who they were before the AVID program on the front, and on the back, who they became with the help of AVID.
“So, they’re everything from ‘walked out on at two years old, and now I’m graduating at 16,” says Seator.
“My favorite cardboard confession is ‘set free by challenge.’ And I think that’s the most important one because they’re great kids, they’re average kids. They might be okay without it, but they’re set free because we challenge them and then they find out they have skills and strengths they didn’t even know about.”