Liberal High School AVID students gather on stage Tuesday afternoon with signs and slogans promoting their dedication to academics as LHS was designated a Demonstration School for AVID. AVID, or Achievement Via Individual Determination, is a program that encourages students to take responsibility for their education while providing a support system and techniques to help with studying. Seven years ago when LHS was one of the worst performing schools in Kansas, a task force went to Riverside, Calif., to view the AVID program there and decided to make it a goal to make LHS an AVID demonstration school. The program has helped increase graduation rates, prepare students for college, and was a part of one of the most dramatic high school turnarounds in the past seven years, taking LHS from the bottom to the second best school in Kansas. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Seven years ago, Liberal High School was near a government takeover due to the poor performance on national testing.
Today, LHS is nationally ranked as one of the best schools in the nation and as the second best high school in Kansas.
Part of that turnaround included the implementation of the AVID program, and as of Tuesday, LHS has been designated a demonstration school for the program.
AVID, or Achievement Via Individual Determination, develops a support system for students that encourages them to set collegiate goals and how to take notes and other habits that will lead to successful outcomes.
School board member Dan Diepenbrock was part of a task force to help identify the issues at LHS seven years ago, and he researched the AVID program and shared it with the group.
Diepenbrock, along with principal Keith Adams, curriculum development coordinator Lana Evans and counselor Rita Williams, went to see a demonstration school in Riverside, Calif.
“We knew the kids at the top would do fine, but those in the middle, we wanted them to achieve at the highest,” Diepenbrock said. “I read the book and was sold on it. It addresses college readiness for the kids in the middle. We went to Riverside, Calif., and we were sold on it the minute we walked into the classroom at Ramona High School.”
Adams had earmarked areas that needed to be addressed at LHS, and AVID was a perfect fit as part of the solution.
“It was part of a comprehensive approach,” he said. “School safety, academics, character education — AVID fit right in line. Once we came in contact with the students, we were sold. They were a national demonstration school, they were a model school for AVID. By the time we made the trip back, we made the determination we wanted to be a demonstration school.”
To do that, Liberal’s teachers and students would have to embrace the AVID philosophies.
“One thing I noticed is AVID became part of the culture of the district and community quickly,” Diepenbrock said. “It only took about two years before everyone knew what AVID was.”
When the group went to Riverside, they noticed a confidence in the students about their desire to go to college, and that they would be prepared.
“We see so much potential in our students, but they don’t see it in themselves,” Evans said. “I was impressed with confidence, speaking abilities, they weren’t scared of us adults. I wanted to bring that back to our students — more rigorous classes, and not wait until their senior year to get ready for college. We now have elementary students already thinking, ‘I want to go to college.’ We didn’t only bring it to high school but down to elementaries as well.”
AVID began as one section at LHS but has now expanded to include two sections at every grade level from seventh grade up.
Students who discussed the program with AVID administrators who designated LHS as a Demonstration School said that AVID was key in their academic careers.
“AVID means a family,” LHS student Tania Sarabia said. “It is a supporting system that helps you out, and it encourages us to do better than we thought we could do. We all have our families, we all love each other, and we see that all the hard work we’ve done all this time has paid off.”
But the students that helped achieve the designation now expect others to make it even better.
“We set the standards for everyone else,” LHS student Krunal Bombaywala said. “As seniors, we set the goal to be a national demonstration school, so the underclassmen have to continue the legacy, and if we made mistakes, they have to fix those mistakes.”
The AVID students noticed that they had an impact on the rest of the student body as well.
“All the other students now want to take notes like we do,” LHS student Jai Chapman said. “That helped us achieve, so they know they can do the same thing.”
The Demonstration School designation can be granted for one to three years, and LHS was granted the maximum three-year designation by the AVID directors.
“We have to see a strong AVID elected implementation, and a good 10 percent or more of the students participating,” AVID director of schoolwide college readiness Ellen Nickerson said. “The students have to move forward and have access to rigorous classes. We look at how AVID has impacted the school, not just students in it, but other students and teachers impacted by instructional strategies, how the culture is impacted, how support systems are in place. We look at their leadership that supports AVID’s mission, not only at the principal’s level but distributed among teachers as well.”
AVID Director of Leadership Development Denise Wren said the data also speaks to the success of AVID in a school, and Liberal’s dramatic turnaround was a sign of the dedication to the AVID strategies.
“I think one thing people look at is data,” she said. “Graduation rates are going up, the demographics are mirrored in (advanced placement) courses, that means there is open access. You walk in and get a sense of pride and strong culture, and we felt that today, hearing the students and teachers talk. I look at passing, period. That tells you a lot — that sense and feel of school pride and that they have the opportunity to be successful.”
Other schools looking to implement AVID will now be able to come to Liberal and tour the high school and its systems on how to properly and effectively implement the program. More than 4,000 schools use AVID, but only 135 are demonstration schools. LHS is now one of them.
“What we saw here is the system is put in place and leadership and support in the community together, and the culture here is exponentially great,” AVID Central Division Senior Director Dr. Wendell Brown said. “We heard students talk about being supported in all of their life — personal lives, academic lives — they made themselves ready to move forward. This is a place people need to see, how they came from where they were to where they are. Students, teachers and parents are extremely proud of being in this school and in this community.”