When Tristen Tuiolemotu entered the seventh grade at Ilima Intermediate, her parents pleaded that she sign-up for the school's AVID program. They told her, "we didn't have a class like this at your age, so you should take advantage of it, and learn."
Six years later, as a James Campbell High School (JCHS) senior, Tuiolemotu would become one of the few selected student speakers at the AVID Summer Institute, an annual gathering to help teachers and administrators plan and share best practices. Speaking at this event is considered a very prestigious honor.
AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a program available in 44 states and 16 countries/territories that focuses on preparing students for college and life after high school. It uses researched-based strategies and curriculum to teach students a wide variety of lessons in subjects like math and reading, as well as skills such as critical thinking.
In 2004, JCHS was the first public school in Hawaii to launch an AVID program. Since then, it has grown to 119 schools in 2014-15. The program has also expanded at JCHS to include 18 percent of the school's students, and earlier this year was given the honor of being an AVID Schoolwide Site of Distinction putting JCHS in the top one percent of AVID schools nationwide.
"Growth and accolades aside, the program has helped to transform the culture on campus," said JCHS Principal Jon Henry Lee. "Some of our students may come from a home environment where college wasn't an option, and with our program we are showing them that it is possible."
Tristen and AVID teacher Marites Galamgam
For the students selected for the program, it is rewarding and challenging. One measurement of the program's success is the school's college going rate, which has grown steadily over the past few years. The school has seen an increase from 42 percent of graduates going to college in 2009 to 51 percent in 2015, according to Hawaii P-20's annual College and Career Readiness Indicators report. AVID students at JCHS have a 100 percent graduation rate with 77 percent of graduates going on to college, 18 percent to community college, 3 percent military and 2 percent to trade school.
"The workload in high school crushed me," Tuiolemotu recalled. "Exams and projects kept me awake well into the morning, my under eye circles becoming more and more pronounced every day."
She credits the skills she learned in AVID such as Cornell note-taking and time management tips provided by her counselors and teachers for helping her through those difficult times.
"Even though it stresses me out, AVID forces me to realize my mistakes and errors, and to change them. I can no longer let my work pile up and be ignored – I have to face my problems head on, no matter how much I'd rather do something else," she added.
In addition to preparing students for college, AVID also encourages relationship building and community service, and for many students it's this support system that helped get them through the rigors and high expectations of the program.
As JCHS alumnus Nicole Mauricio recalls, "A highlight from my experience in AVID was establishing relationships with so many different people. My AVID brothers and sisters were all unique. They came from various ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds with a wide range of knowledge and experiences. We were athletes, artists, musicians and comedians - see what I mean? Random. But, our group could not have been more perfect."
Mauricio is currently a senior at Whittier College pursuing a Bachelor's of Arts in Music with a Minor in Elementary Education, and hopes to return home to establish more arts programs in Hawaii's schools.
The program's success on its student participants motivates teacher Kenneth Everett. As one of the founders of AVID at JCHS, he's been a part of its growth into the nationally ranked program that it is today.
"Students I encountered were a lot like me, struggling through high school," said Everett. "The more kids I had go from a 1.8 to graduating with a 3.5, I knew I was on the right track."
And as JCHS prepares to take AVID strategies school-wide this year in preparation for summative assessments, Everett is looking forward to expanding the program's reach adding, "AVID not only helps us coach these students academically, we are also helping them build their confidence. It provides the support and hope they need to realize that their dreams can become a reality."