WALLA WALLA – John Fleming is often asked about being a college student by the Walla Walla High School students he tutors as part of his job. He especially gets questions about playing on Whitman College’s soccer team.
Fleming’s input is particularly significant given the students he works with. As an AVID tutor, Fleming acts as both supplemental instructor and role model to students who will be among the first in their families to reach higher education.
AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. Implemented in Walla Walla Public Schools four years ago, the federal program graduated its first group of students in 2011 – with all 15 who stayed in the program going on to college.
Through AVID, students who show potential to excel in school but lack the foundation or motivation to do so are offered the chance to thrive in high school.
The students in Mike Gobel’s third-period class are juniors who have taken elective AVID courses with Gobel since ninth grade. The elective period gives students a chance to focus on taking better notes, improving study habits and completing homework assignments.
Through that focus, students then learn to be critical thinkers and practice having their opinions and voices heard.
Having tutors assist in the classes is one of the AVID components. Gobel said the program maintains a 7-to-1 ratio of students per tutor. Eight college-student tutors help in classes at Walla Walla High School throughout the day.
On a recent day in Gobel’s class, four Whitman College students worked with students in small groups. All the students were preparing essays but were first developing thesis statements and drafting outlines through peer edits.
At one table, Fleming worked with Nik Miner to help him prepare an introduction for his research paper. The students are preparing essays on Nobel Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.
“She’s the leader for change in Burma,” Miner explained. “She’s trying to change the current government to a democracy.”
“It’s super-interesting because it’s really current. You hear about it in the news all the time.”
Miner said being in AVID has helped him with improving homework habits, taking notes in class and being more organized.
Gobel said getting the students to college is the main goal, but helping them thrive and succeed in higher education is also part of it.
The 29 juniors currently in the AVID program have been together since ninth grade, and all are expected to go on to college.
“We know we’re going to get them in,” Gobel said. “We want to keep them in.”