ARLINGTON -- Students can't help but think of college when they step inside the AVID classroom at Carter Junior High in Arlington.
Brightly colored pennants from schools in Texas and beyond decorate the walls. To help students get there, class time is filled with study skills, testing strategies, critical-thinking exercises and tutoring.
The nationally known system, called Advancement Via Individual Determination, takes students who finished elementary school in the middle of the pack and pushes them to excel in more challenging classes. They start taking AVID as an elective in junior high and middle school and continue through high school.
As it has expanded during the last few years, Arlington administrators said they have seen AVID work time and time again. It helps students who might have floated through secondary school without failing but never realizing their potential, they said.
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"We can put them on the college track," said Linda Rodgers, coordinator of secondary special populations for Arlington. "It's their choice what they do with it, but it's our job as educators to give them that choice."
AVID was developed by a public school teacher in 1980. It's in more than 4,000 schools nationwide; 75 are in Tarrant County, including in Fort Worth, Crowley, Mansfield and the Birdville school district.
AVID is in all of Arlington's traditional junior highs and high schools. It costs $1.4 million a year in state funding to run, including personnel costs. It has grown from 1,292 students two years ago to 2,178 students this year.
Rodgers recently reported to Arlington's school board about the success of the district's program.
For example, Bowie High School was one of six AVID schools nationwide to receive a private grant to increase participation of black males in the program and provide extra mentoring.
For several years, Hutcheson Junior High has been an AVID demonstration school, one of 119 in the U.S. Last spring, Carter Junior High joined them on that list. Two Fort Worth schools, Meacham Middle School and Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School, also have that designation.
Students enrolling in the AVID elective go through an application process. The program targets those who are low income, first-generation collegegoers or historically underserved by higher education. About 46 percent of AVID students in Arlington are Hispanic; 28 percent are African-American.
AVID students must also have the "individual determination" to succeed, principals said.
Demonstration schools like Hutcheson and Carter show officials from other districts what they're doing.
Here's what they would find at Carter, Principal Rashel Stevens said. Carter has 177 seventh- and eight-graders enrolled in the elective. There, they get the support and encouragement to enroll in more challenging classes like pre-Advanced Placement algebra. But the AVID model -- which puts a premium on organization, note-taking skills, writing and critical thinking -- is encouraged schoolwide, with teachers in subjects like history and math also receiving training.
At Carter, AVID students consistently surpass the schoolwide passing rate for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, sometimes by up to 30 percentage points. They are also more likely to earn commended performance recognition from the state by scoring higher.
Giving students the confidence to take responsibility for their education is also a major goal. To that end, AVID teacher Deborah Falls' class spends two days a week in study groups. Students help one another answer questions from other classes. Paid tutors, usually college students with an interest in education, oversee the process.
On a recent Thursday, Marymar Magana, 13, brought in a tough equation from her math class.
"The teachers have gone over it, but sometimes I don't understand it all. They help me break it down," said Magana, who gets As and Bs. She said her father attended a university in Mexico, and he encourages her to study hard. AVID has helped her get organized.
Classmate Carlos Bledsoe, 12, is already looking toward the future. He wants to play in the NFL or go into law enforcement. He signed up for AVID because he knows that attending college will help him get a good job and a good house, he said.
At the high school level, AVID students in their junior and senior years begin to focus more on college applications and looking for scholarships.
Wendy Cardozo, a junior at Bowie, said that being in AVID since she was a freshman has made her more confident about that process. Without AVID, she wouldn't be the student she is today, she said.
"I think I'd be like I was in eighth grade," she said. "I never think I would have been able to go into AP or pre-AP."
Cardozo will be the first in her family to graduate from high school and attend college, she said. She recently completed an internship at Mental Health Mental Retardation of Tarrant County and traveled to Philadelphia to attend a conference with a Texas A&M researcher she worked with through the program.
Students who achieve their goals become ambassadors for AVID, said Brenda Jacks, AVID lead teacher for the Fort Worth school district. Hearing their stories inspires teachers to get more students involved. That's been Jacks' focus for the past 11/2 years. Fort Worth's program, which is in 28 schools, grew from 2,565 participants last year to 2,836 this fall.
"The numbers were not low, but I knew there were more students that could use the AVID program," she said. "I wish I had the AVID program when I was in school."
TRACI SHURLEY, 817-390-7641