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9781118438190.pdfI recently finished reading Jay Mathews’ Question Everything.

There are not many books that have me looking at where a program is described so powerfully that I look to see where these schools are and check out their employment lists.

This just seems like such a great idea. I don’t like that it’s so restrictive, because a lot of kids could benefit from this kind of program.

Take kids who are working hard to make the grade but generally fall through the cracks, students whose parents did not go to college, enroll them in AP classes and then give them the extra support they need to learn school and generally succeed. Three days of learning things like how to take notes, interview, and learn learning skills. Two days of tutoring in which students learn the Socratic method and are held to it, by paid tutors recruited from a local university, closer in age to the students they are targeting. Such a great idea. Take kids who don’t usually make it and teach them school.

Schooliness. That’s what we’ve always called it in our district. And our students don’t always have it. My own children will be fine. Though I don’t always think they are or even will be the most well-prepared to take on college. I think they will stumble, like I did, but they will have support from their family. They know they will be going to college. They know it’s an expectation.

AVID really targets those kids who don’t have those expectations.

This book won me over. And not because it sang praises. It does, but it also looks at the other side of the coin.  If you’ve ever gotten lost in a really great in-depth investigative reporting piece, then you have felt what this book feels like. Mathews comes from a reporter’s background, and he doesn’t shy away from the dirty underbelly. Superintendents who scuttle a teacher’s best-laid plans for students. An entire school district that tried to take this on but failed. Principals who wouldn’t fully support the program. And yet…

It’s hard to believe that this has been around for more than 20 years and that I’d not heard of it. And it’s harder to believe that there aren’t more people trying to make sure that more kids get access to such help.

If we really want college-ready students, then we have to put our money and time and energy where our mouths are. We have to give students the extra support, socially, emotionally and academically, that they need to achieve.

And I don’t know that we ever fully do that.

I mean, unless parents are being the squeaky wheels, where are school board members supposed to hear about the students who are dropping out at an ever quickening rate? Where does the superintendent hear that along with proficiency based learning will come a culling of our most fragile and needy children? Where does the community hear about problems shifting from the schools to the streets?

Maybe they will hear about it through the police. Or the courts.

Our communities are only as strong as the weakest links. And as long as we don’t do some lifting up, we will do some falling.

I am wondering how to expand this, though. How do we get the kids who don’t fit the AVID profile (the ones labeled as troublemakers, as kids without enough proficiency, without any support) to get a hand up?

This program would never work for the newly-arrived ELL students I teach. I wonder what would.

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