La Crosse celebrates first group to graduate from AVID program

AVID is helping these students make college dreams come true

College dreams are about to become reality for the first group of La Crosse high school students to graduate after participating in the AVID college-readiness program.

Central AVID students Thomas Yang and Tou Bee Xiong.

For Thomas Yang, who intends to go to the University of Minnesota Rochester, AVID classes have helped him feel prepared. “Otherwise, I never would have thought about being ready for college until about right now.” Thomas is interested in ophthalmology.

Sally Manninger gets a congratulatory hug from retired Central AVID Teacher Danette Tritch.

For Sally Manninger, the AVID experience means she is confident she won’t make the same mistake as her older sister, and end up dropping out of college right away. She plans to study psychology at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.  “People are driven by their own determination to succeed.”

For Kaylee Roths, AVID “helped me step outside myself and focus.” She also learned that it’s OK “to reach out for help.” Kaylee is going to start college at Western Technical College with plans to transfer to either UW-La Crosse or Viterbo University and pursue a nursing career.

For Tou Bee Xiong, who is planning to attend Winona State University, AVID has helped him discover a desire to become a teacher. “I want to help students like me who have really struggled with middle school and high school.”

All four students were among a group of seniors who shared their experiences as part of a special AVID celebration held May 5 at Central High School. About 35 students attended, along with teachers, administrators and community members, including key donors who supported the launch of AVID three years ago.

In all, 41 students involved in AVID are graduating from La Crosse Central and Logan high schools. All but one has been accepted into either a four-year or two-year college, and that remaining student (along with one other AVID graduate) plans to join the military before pursuing college, according to data compiled by the two high schools.

At this time, 28 are planning to attend four-year colleges this fall, and 11 will start at two-year colleges, some with the intention of transferring later to a four-year college.

The majority of these students will be the first in their families to go to college.

AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a college-readiness program funded through major support from the La Crosse Public Education Foundation. AVID students learn specific skills for use in other classes, including note-taking, reading, writing, inquiry, and critical thinking skills. They also participate in tutoring sessions that emphasize collaboration and group problem-solving.

All AVID students are required to take advanced-placement classes and are exposed to colleges through campus visits and class presentations. They get help writing letters or essays, completing pre-college testing, and applying for financial aid.

Former Central Principal Jeff Fleig, who was instrumental in the launch of AVID during the 2014-15 school year, spoke of the key support from Superintendent Randy Nelson (in the background).

Major grant funding for AVID was provided by the Otto Bremer Trust.

The program was phased in over three years, supported by about $230,000 in grants and other donations to LPEF. At full implementation, the program is expected to serve more than 200 students a year between the two high schools. AVID has a proven track record nationally in nearly 5,000 schools.

The AVID program focuses on students in the academic middle – often those are students who don’t think about getting prepared for college until it’s too late. When compared to the overall student body at Central and Logan, AVID students are more likely to be students of color and more likely to be from low-income families with less family history of attending college. That fulfills a goal to reach students who are under-represented in college enrollment and graduation rates.

The key is to focus on the assets that students bring to their schooling, rather than on their deficits or shortcomings, said Jeff Fleig, the former Central High School principal who was instrumental in launching AVID for the 2014-15 school year. “Empathy, not sympathy,” said Fleig.

Fleig, now a middle school principal in the Glendale-River Hills School District near Milwaukee, was a featured speaker at the May 5 celebration. He spoke about the important role played by Superintendent Randy Nelson in getting behind the implementation of AVID, and he thanked donors for their support.

He also credited students with helping him see that some school policies “were not about student choice,” in particular screening processes requiring teacher approval before a student could be enrolled in an Advanced Placement course.

Festival Foods Chairman Dave Skogen, who has volunteered time and financial support for the AVID program, speaks with seniors and asks about their career plans.

Logan High Teacher Carrie Harings thanked the AVID seniors “for allowing me to be part of a sacred time in your life.” She said the keys to AVID are setting high expectations and providing the tools for students to succeed, at the same time giving them a “safe space” to discuss issues and concerns. “We encourage kids to take risks.”

Central High Teacher Ellen Koelbl credited relationships – across the two high schools, with donors, with the community and with students – as critical. And she reminded the students they are not alone as they head off to college. “You always have your AVID family to come back to.”

As students shared their experiences with donors in a series of small group discussions, they often talked about the importance of mentors and the relationships they have built.

And they credited AVID with helping them grow and build self-confidence. “It’s not about who you are on the outside,” said Tou Bee Xiong, taking off a bright yellow vest jacket to illustrate his point.

“It’s who you are on the inside. And on the inside, I’m Tou Bee Xiong.”


La Crosse Tribune: First crop of AVID graduates excited about college (May 6, 2017)