For students enrolled in an advanced placement program at Wilson Middle School, the countdown to college has begun. And these eighth- and seventh-graders aren't letting a minute go to waste.
"It is a competitive world out there, and students are needing to be much more aware of the options after high school," said Jolie Augustine, an English teacher and director of the school's Advancement Via Individual Determination program, known as AVID.
The college readiness program, used at hundreds of schools throughout California, including Toll and Roosevelt middle schools and Hoover and Glendale high schools, is designed to assist middle-of-the-road students reach their higher education goals.
At Wilson, AVID is taken as a daily elective. Now in its fifth year, it is open to seventh- and eighth-graders. But admission into the program is competitive. Students are required to apply and interview, explaining why they want to participate, Augustine said.
Among the program's features is training students in organizational skills and time management. Each AVID student is required to maintain a meticulously structured binder that is checked weekly by a teacher. They are also trained to use the Cornell note-taking style, which provides a systematic way for condensing and reviewing information.
"My favorite thing is the binder checks," John Mardirosian, 13. "Every time [we] take notes in a class we can use it to help us improve our grades. She always tells us to improve our notes, so when a test comes it is very helpful."
Two days a week are dedicated to peer tutorials, where students are divided into groups based on the subjects they need extra help with. Working with the oversight of an adult tutor, they collaborate to solve problems, such as algebra equations and political theory questions.
"Last year I wasn't that good," said Ashot Voskanyan, 14. "I was a C student, and now I am an A student. I would advise kids to join. It is worth the effort."
And while the focus is on mastering core subject matter, the AVID curriculum also allows for discussion of real-world issues. Student interest was piqued by a recently assigned article about the increasingly important role of technology in the lives of American youth.
"You get to talk with them, not at them, about topics that otherwise you might never touch upon," said AVID teacher Marianne Cann.
Some of Wilson's AVID students will be first-generation college students, Augustine said, and their families might not be aware of the options available to them. She schedules several field trips to community colleges and four-year universities to demonstrate that higher education is accessible with hard work and preparation.
And when executed properly, the AVID program can help elevate student learning throughout a school site, Augustine said.
"You might walk into any classroom today and see a math teacher doing Cornell notes, or an English teacher doing Cornell notes," Augustine said. "AVID is meant to help the whole school grow and create a college-aware learning environment."