COLUMBIA — Miguel Montes, a sophomore at Battle High School, will be the first in his family to graduate high school and the first to attend college.
Montes, 16, is the only one in his family who speaks English well enough to communicate with others, so he often serves as the translator for his Spanish-speaking family. He also is responsible for making sure his little brother gets his schoolwork done and the household bills get paid.
Montes has been a smart student and wants to go to college to become a surgeon — for now, at least. He's pretty sure that no matter what he does, it will be in the medical field.
Montes is one of many students who are determined to work hard but could benefit from a support system to push them to challenge themselves. Along with 20 other sophomores and 23 freshman at Battle, he was selected for a new Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, system at Battle.
The program strives to close the academic achievement gap among students by providing them with the resources and support to not only be prepared for college, but to succeed in it.
AVID is a national college readiness system that targets students in the academic middle who show a strong desire to attend college and are determined to work hard. Often, these students are the first in their family to go to college, and many are from low-income or minority families, according the national AVID website.
AVID also is at Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools. To be admitted, students have to complete an application and oral and written interviews. Then the AVID Site Teams at each school select the best qualified students for their building.
A push toward potential
Many in the Battle class said they applied because they needed someone to push them to reach their full potential.
Freshman Stephanie Salas said her mother and the rest of her family are cleaners, and they expected her to be the same. Salas is determined to do something different.
That personal determination is important, AVID instructor Rachel Bennett said. "We know we have really intelligent students," Bennett said. "But if they don't want to succeed more than we want to see them succeed, it ends up being really hard."
According to National Student Clearinghouse data, 96 percent of students in the Columbia district aspire to attend a two- or four-year college; however, 47 percent of them go on to graduate from college.
Abdul Nour, a 14-year-old freshman in the AVID class, wants to receive all As and Bs this semester. He said he won't be satisfied with his grades until they are all 100 percent.
"Whenever I want to give up, I just look at this," Nour said, glancing at a yellow "AVID Scholar" bracelet on his right wrist. "It gives me motivation to keep going."
AVID is a regular credited elective class that students attend two or three times a week. They will remain in the program until they graduate.
A lot is expected of these students, Bennett said. They are required to be enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement or honors course.
The challenging curriculum empowers students with the critical thinking and necessary skills they need to be prepared for college, Bennett said. It also helps them recognize their ability to do well in school and boosts their self-esteem.
"Being in AVID has opened my eyes to my future," sophomore Tatiana Winters, 15, said. "I've learned I can do so much more."
One of those achievements is taking an Advanced Placement course. Winters wants to go to college to become a biochemical engineer.
All students are given an AVID binder that contains all the materials for their courses. The classroom gives them a structured place for them to stay organized, Bennett said.
Students are focused on learning how to efficiently and effectively take notes, as well as reading to learn. They also participate in Socratic seminars and other learning activities to help improve their academic skills.
Each week, students have the opportunity to receive help from their peers, as well as a paid tutor, on something they are struggling to understand in one of their classes. It forces them to ask high-level critical thinking questions and use each other to find a solution rather than give up.
Paige Robb, a freshman AVID student, said the tutorials are a strategy she will continue through college. It is a strategy that helps not only the person asking the question, but also challenges the entire class. Instead of telling them the answer, you ask questions to help them reach a solution, Robb, 15, said.
Classmates offer support system
The classroom offers much more than lessons to improve students' academic skills. Many of the students in the program face challenges in their personal lives that often interfere with their academic success. The relationships built among students is a huge aspect of AVID.
Montes said his family wants him to advance and has given him nothing but support and love. However, when he is struggling with homework, the level of work is often beyond their reach to help, he said.
Montes has a lot of responsibilities at home, and AVID has helped him learn how to manage his time better. He said his classmates always remind him of projects, homework and lend their notes if he needs them.
"AVID is a family," Bennett said. "It's a safe place where they can talk about their personal and academic lives without fear that it will leave the classroom. They all support one another."
The support system goes beyond the classroom. This year, sophomore Samantha Moss, 15, and freshman Lexie Horton, 14, were in the running for Battle's ninth and 10th-grade homecoming queens. Both students won with the help and support from their AVID family.
As a new school, Battle elected a student from the ninth, 10th and 11th grades for homecoming court this year.
"I couldn't have won without the votes and support from my AVID family," Moss said.
Since AVID started at the beginning of the year, Bennett said attendance rates have increased and discipline and tardies have decreased. She has also seen a rise in students' confidence and self-esteem.
Romello Nichols, a freshman in AVID, was a quiet student before he started the class. He said he has become more confident and learned to speak up both when he is confused and when he knows a concept well enough to teach others.
"I feel very proud of myself," Nichols, 14, said. "I've stepped out of my comfort zone and have helped others. That's something I would've never done before."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.