Storm Lake High School is on the cutting edge once again, leading students to a collegiate path that might otherwise elude them.
SLHS is the first in the state to offer AVID, a structured, college preparatory program.
Assistant Principal Beau Ruleaux said that what is unique about this program is that it reaches the "middle" students that sometimes get left out. Schools have programs for the top students and programs that reach the lower academic students but until AVID, the middle students, those that fall in the 2.0-3.5 grade point average area, did not have programs to push them to a higher level.
The AVID student shows desire and determination, and with support, will demonstrate that they are bound for college. In many cases, in fact, they will be the first in their family to have the opportunity to go on to college.
There are 23 students involved in this new program, most of them are freshmen. SLHS staff member Pat Armstrong has been trained to be a lead teacher for the program, and will stick with these students, who meet one period every day, for the entire four years.
The students take part in rigorous course work. College and high school students are made available to serve as tutors for the AVID students. "These tutors make these students work harder than they ever have," Ruleaux said.
The students each sign an agreement and must continue to meet several requirements. The students are also taught new study skills that will help them in their current studies as well as when they go on to college. The dedication of the students is paying off - 15 of the 23 students earned grades good enough to put them on the honor roll while one earned straight As. For some of these students, this is the first time they have ever experienced academic recognition.
The AVID students are also encouraged to participate in school activities and to become good citizens. Parent involvement is encouraged, inf act, Mrs. Armstrong set up appointments with each family and went to their home for a visit. "That meant so much to them - the students and the parents. That was so powerful and it shows how the school cares about their kids," Ruleaux said.
The students are excited about this program.
"I have taken more responsibility," said Lourdes Arreola, "and I look at the future now. My parents really want me to go to college."
Diago Ramirez said the class has taught him how to pay more attention in class and "has helped me develop higher thinking."
He added that the class has also created a love for reading. He admitted that before, he didn't like picking up a book to read and now he is reading college-level books.
"I take my time to read and when I have extra time after class, I read."
He added that he and the other students are so excited about the program that they have talked to other students about it, telling them they should become a part of it. They even tell students they have met from other schools about the program and what it has done for them.
Ivan Ramirez said he used to be shy and not open up during class. Now he is getting better grades and has offered to help others. He has made many new friends - in the AVID class and around the school.
As part of the class, the students also keep up to date on current events by reading local newspapers and reading about the world news. The students have also had the opportunity to listen to speakers about jobs and colleges.
"That helped me open my mind to the different choices I have," Ivan said.
The AVID students have developed a service project that they are calling, "AVID's gone green - the school should, too."
"So many people throw things away and that pollutes the air," he added. The group is promoting recycling and the school is behind them.
"This is wonderful," Armstrong said of the program. She lights up when she talks about the class and the students.
AVID has been around for 27 years, highlighted not long ago on "60 Minutes". AVID reaches more than 250,000 students in more than 3,500 schools in 45 of the states as well as in 15 other countries. It is hoped that more schools will catch on. As for the SL district, it will be continually backed. The local AVID site team consists of Ruleaux, who has been named the district director; Armstrong, Sandy Morrow, Julie Winterton, Julianna Smith, Craig Lyon, Robyn Hogrefe, Cheryl Lustgraaf and Jodi Thiesen. All these teacher have gone through training and will receive additional training this summer.
The next "crop" of AVID students are the current eighth grade students. They have already been approached.