A Comprehensive Approach to Schoolwide Impact

As a leader in a suburban Wisconsin school district, I have shared in the increasingly common experience of fellow suburban school leaders: my student population is growing more diverse. Last school year, nearly one in four of our students were students of color.

While I am proud of our district’s ability to build the programs necessary to support students from all backgrounds, I am also cognizant of the critical importance–and challenge–of doing it well.

Our district has approached this challenge by partnering with AVID, a system that focuses on supporting both teachers and students to build essential learning skills. AVID has also introduced us to a broad national community of educators who are committed to making sure all students have access to both academic and soft skills to be successful.

Over the summer, I had the honor and privilege of addressing part of this community at one of AVID’s Summer Institutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My take-away from the event was clear: whatever the national dialogue, education is more important than ever.

The challenge of educating each of America’s youth at the highest levels—equipping and empowering every one of them to find and use their voices, make themselves relevant and impactful, and discover their true potential— is a moral imperative. For the sake of our collective future, we must answer this call.

This commitment is critical not only for “those students” who need remedial work, nor just for “those students” who are tagged early in life as honors or AP, but for all students. We know all students can succeed given the appropriate amount of support and encouragement.

On a personal level, AVID has fueled my fire for equity and social justice, reminding me what striving to educate all students really means.  It has equipped me with tools to affect positive change as a lead learner at our school. And it has sharpened my sensibilities about the need for systematic and systemic change so I can help all the young people entrusted to me become the best version of themselves.

Learning involves asking challenging questions and heeding the call of creative thoughts. AVID schoolwide is one of those expansive ideas we have embraced because it centers on providing the best instruction and developing the skills of all students on campus.

The program includes encouragement of inquiry based, student-centered learning to fully engage students in their studies, transferring the responsibility of learning from teacher to student. It also allows for discourse, sharing of ideas and increased confidence in how to express ideas and learn new concepts.

AVID provides a roadmap to help students decode the material presented, whether in lecture, print or digital form, so students deepen their understanding of academic subject matter.

We work to integrate the AVID time-tested strategies referred to as WICOR – Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading – not just for the underrepresented across the campus, but for all students. And it’s changed the way students approach their learning.

This change in instruction across our campus is perhaps the most obvious and outwardly noticeable evidence of AVID’s impact at our school.  The look, feel, and sound of learning today stand in stark contrast to our instructional methods in the past. Click here to see what an AVID classroom looks like.

AVID’s transformative effect is even more profound than what an observer might perceive.  Beliefs about students, their place in the classroom, their abilities, and their potential are changing as well.  With our ever-evolving mindsets, AVID continues to challenge us to refine or in many cases demolish and completely rebuild entire systems with the intent of better serving and building upon the assets of all our students.

Each student needs—deserves—the skills AVID can help them to build. Skills like coherently communicating their thoughts and ideas in writing and in discourse; asking good, deep questions and identifying complete answers and banding together to accomplish meaningful work. Beyond these skills, students need to know their voices matter and that they, as people, matter.

With skills, drive and self-assurance, our students can change the policies and traditions that hold us back from realizing our potential as a nation. They, together, can make us all better.

If we work to implement AVID with fidelity, passion, and fierce determination in our classrooms, across our campuses and throughout our districts, we can and will raise a generation of students who are ready for college, ready for careers, and more importantly—most importantly—ready to change the world.

Brett Bowers is the principal of Homestead High School, an AVID National Demonstration School in Mequon, Wisconsin.  During his 14-year tenure as a principal, he has helped to launch the AVID College Readiness System in two high schools.  Brett supports AVID’s mission as a summer institute staff developer and curriculum writer, all with a focus on leadership development.


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