Mercer students’ efforts with the AVID tutoring program expand this semester to include five of the seven Bibb County middle schools.
Students began involvement last semester by facilitating tutorials at four local middle schools in conjunction with their service-learning classes.
Advancement Via Individual Determination launched at the beginning of the Fall 2012-2013 school year in all of the Bibb County middle schools but began nationwide in 1980.
Since its conception, the AVID program has helped improve the reading, organization, writing, inquiry, and collaboration skills of the students involved. The program targets seventh and eighth graders.
Senior Vice Provost for Service Learning and Mercer professor, Mary Alice Morgan, said the cohort-type program follows students to their high school graduation and focuses on students most likely to take advantage of the intervention. Morgan expects the program to “stem the tide of dropouts” in the area.
Southwest High School, the school most of Bibb county middle schools feed into, holds the eighth highest dropout rate in the state of Georgia, but results from nationwide AVID efforts hint at the promise of change.
Ninety percent of AVID graduates from the state of Georgia plan to enroll in a college or university, according to the AVID Center Senior Data Collection System.
AVID’s mission is to allow all students the opportunity to pursue the college dream by providing college students as role models representing where the children want to be in the future.
Morgan calls it a “win-win situation because [college] students get the benefit of viewing education differently while also giving back to the Macon community.”
The GEAR UP federal grant program, funded by the Department of Education, made AVID possible for schools in the Bibb County region.
GEAR UP stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. The program provides seven-year grants to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools.
No grant yet exists to include additional grade levels, but with teachers already trained in the program’s operations, Bibb County schools want to maintain and reach more students if possible, Morgan said.
AVID selects children for participation and places them into an elective class. Unlike traditional subject learning, the program focuses on problem-solving techniques with a foundation of inquiry.
Children present a Point of Confusion to their classmates and are asked probing questions in order to solve the problem for themselves.
College tutors, including those from Mercer, serve alongside the students and are a critical component for the program’s success. Tutors are trained in the procedures of the tutorial process before sessions with students begin.
Josh Funderburke, a first year student who tutors double the required once-a-week visit, said he only wants to set an example for the students and have them respect him.
Commuter Kaitlynn Jones, who tutors at Ballard Hudson Middle School, said the teacher engages students by using clapping and hand movements, so students know it’s time to “dive into” their work.
Along with classroom tutorials, AVID students may enjoy field trips to nearby colleges or “Gear Up for College Days” Saturday events hosted by Mercer University. During the events, students partake in science labs while parents attend workshops.
Chelsea Flieger, Director of the Center for Leadership and Volunteerism, said the Saturday events received positive feedback last semester: 96 percent of teachers and parents said they would recommend the program to others.
Many Mercer volunteers from last semester returned this semester. Although the current program contains only students in service-learning curriculum, other trained volunteers may be accepted in the future, according to Flieger.