Federal Way High School among best nationwide for AVID

Federal Way High School student Andrea Scanlan gets some help with math in an AVID tutorial group with Azalea Finauga and Nadya Chernichenko. - Contributed photo
Federal Way High School student Andrea Scanlan gets some help with math in an AVID tutorial group with Azalea Finauga and Nadya Chernichenko.
— image credit: Contributed photo

As one of just 125 AVID Demonstration Schools, Federal Way High School serves as model, and a teaching and learning center for other AVID schools and districts. The school was recently re-certified for second three-year period.

According to AVID’s Lynn Nelson, assistant director of Division and Demonstration Schools, Demonstration Schools are committed schools that exemplify the AVID College-Readiness System and its strategies and methodologies. “They are the best-of-the-best in staff development, student success and results, leadership and many other areas,” she wrote when asked what sets these schools apart.

AVID—Advancement Via Individual Determination—is a 30-year old program that impacts more than 700,000 students in 46 states, the District of Columbia and across 16 other countries/territories.

There are 309 AVID students at Federal Way High School for the 2013–14 school year. Each has AVID as an elective through all four years and is required to take at least one Cambridge AICE program classes per semester. Many end up taking more, up to a full schedule of the rigorous pre-university program that emphasizes the value of broad and balanced study for academically able students.

“For us, AVID is a verb,” said Karin Weberg, AVID Coordinator for FWHS. “It’s an action. It’s who we are and what we believe. AVID is part of every class, even when students aren’t enrolled in AVID. It defines what we do, every day.”

AVID students either apply or are recommended by a teacher or staff member, and face a competitive interview process as well as a review of their transcripts. Each is required to take four years of math, advanced or college-level English and/or history, and are encouraged to take a fourth year of science and a third or fourth year in foreign language. This usually means fulfilling other elective credits outside of the school day.

“We are looking for the grit, determination, commitment and willingness to meet a challenge that makes the AVID student,” said Weberg. “Our job is give every one of these students the option of going to college by ensuring they have the grades and skills needed to succeed.

When students transfer from other schools or districts, FWHS staff look at their transcripts and background through an AVID lens, always asking “Is this an AVID student?” While most begin in 9th grade, there are usually seats available as students transfer out or are dropped due to grades.

The success of AVID at FWHS is built on intentional choices and the expectation that every student has the ability to thrive if given the opportunity. “After ten years, AVID is not a program; it is a belief system embedded in the school culture,” Weberg emphasizes. It has successfully institutionalized support for students to meet their potential. Substantial participation by AmeriCorps provides the tutors needed to make AVID work.

Intentional hires — looking at candidates through an AVID lens — has led to an administrative and teaching team that includes more than 15 alumni and several married couples. “We’re serious about that word; family,” said Weberg. “Just like any family, it doesn’t mean difficult things don’t happen. But we always put students first.”

As a demonstration school, FWHS regularly hosts visitors from other districts who come to learn more about implementing AVID. During one such visit, a panel of AVID students shared their pride in themselves and each other, as well as some of the challenges they have overcome.

“In middle school, I didn’t know what college was and mostly had grades of C or F. My focus was all on sports,” said Eric Ah Fua, who is co-captain of FWHS’s winning football team and an officer in the school’s Pacific Islander Club. “I thought you finished high school and then went to work. Now I am applying for scholarships and had a 4.0 my junior year.”

Eric shared his pride in overcoming barriers and will be the first in his family to go to college. His father didn’t finish high school and his mother dropped out of junior college. His older siblings (seven brothers and one sister) skipped school and some dropped out. I didn’t have anyone to look up to before AVID. It has made me reflective and focused on what’s best for me.”

At the time of the panel presentation, Miriam Rodriguez had just returned from Olympia where she watched Governor Inslee sign the  Washington State Dream Act. She described some of the differences AVID has made in her life. “As a little kid, I struggled with doing my homework. No one in my family had the background to help. I’d ask how to do something, and they’d just look at me. Now my AVID tutorials can help with a problem I don’t get. There is no worry about going home and not being able to do it.”

Read the personal stories of more AVID students on the district website.

AVID by the Numbers, 2013-14

Federal Way High School AVID students: 309

  • 9th grade: 90
  • 10th grade: 90
  • 11th grade: 71
  • 12th grade: 59

Federal Way High School AVID site team: 40 (AVID elective teachers are in every department except math)

Number of Federal Way High School AVID students accepted to college: 100 percent


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