#214 – Educator Voices: Paving the Way to Personal, Academic, and Career Success

Unpacking Education August 30, 2023 43 min

This episode is Part IV of a four-part series featuring educator voices from the 2022 AVID National Conference. Each episode features interviews with teachers and school leaders. In this episode, educators share what it takes to help students succeed. Specifically, our guests talk about how we can help students pave their path forward toward personal, academic, and career success.

Throughout the episode, the caring nature of educators shines through. They go the extra mile to create positive learning environments and opportunities for the students they serve. This includes experiences that can help them grow personally, become better students, and gain awareness of career possibilities. These experiences all make a positive difference in the lives of students.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

I never lose. I either win or learn.

Nelson Mandela, First President of South Africa

Opening Minds and Doors

Educators know how important it is to empower students and provide them with opportunities to succeed, and we heard this theme repeatedly as we interviewed K–12 educators. In their responses, you’ll hear how their experiences have positively shaped their students. We hope that hearing them share their insights can help you grow as well.

For example, Angela Murr talks about the importance of exposing kids to new opportunities. She says, “It blows my mind what they’re capable of when you give them the opportunity to do it.” Listen to the full show for more insights from amazing educators like Angela. The following are a few highlights from our conversations:

  • Julia Sumler, Instructional Coach, Jefferson Elementary School, Mesa Public Schools, AZ: After 16 years in the classroom, most with AVID, Julia says, “I saw an enormous impact on my teaching as a teacher, and then the learning of students, because as a teacher, it [AVID] gives you high-quality strategies to use with students. And then when students really take ownership over their learning by using all of the AVID strategies, they just grow and flourish so much, and then you can see how that progresses into the years to come. Like I did first grade, I did third grade, and you can see how they’re still using those strategies as they continue on in the upper grades. And it’s so powerful. Once you go down the AVID way, there’s no other way.”
  • Jenny Piel, Instructional Coach, Lakeview Middle School, Greenville County Schools, SC: “The more teacher efficacy we can build within our brick-and-mortar walls, the more success, ultimately, everybody will have.”
  • Maya Waters, Elementary Teacher, Lincoln Middle School, Syracuse City School District, NY: “I personally love AVID because I feel like it empowers my students. It gives them a voice, and it also gives them responsibility. I love the concept of teaching them how to speak in front of a group, how to work with peers, and all those things. I think it’s a lot of important life skills that you need to learn just to be successful in general, so that’s why I love AVID.”
  • Shannon Harsh, Teacher and AVID Coordinator, Wilson College Prep, Phoenix Union High School District, AZ: Shannon teaches at a school where every single student is enrolled in the AVID Elective. “It’s just perfect,” she says. “It’s such a great community and culture of students who maybe don’t have those skill sets but want to be better. They want to go to college or have a really good career, those types of things. And they just don’t know how to do school as well when they come to us, and so we get to kind of help them along the way, and it’s great.”
  • Crystal Henderson, Principal, Gibson Elementary School, Riverview Gardens School District, MO: “I didn’t even realize AVID was in elementary school and that they’ve been doing it for years, right? . . . But it only made sense to do it in the elementary school because my fifth-graders when they go to the middle school, they do AVID in the middle school, and then it transfers to the high school. . . . This is just going to help us dive deeper into our curriculum and what we’re already doing—increase the depth of knowledge.”
  • Andy Wait, Program Manager, Western Region, AVID Center: “Kids are maximizing their potential and not falling through the cracks—game-changing with everything that it offers the kids. When I first had my experience with it, I was like, ‘I’m never going to be at a school again that doesn’t have AVID,’ and now I get to work with all the AVID schools.”
  • Christie McMullen, Associate Area Director, Eastern Region, AVID Center: “I like to leave people better than I found them, meaning give them something that’s useful and helpful, and I really feel AVID does that. It gives people a system for how to do their work so they can be great.”
  • Tiana Crockham, Administrative Assistant II, Eastern Region, AVID Center: “We need a solid foundation in education, so we can reach all children.”
  • Tracy Hollinger, Director of Instruction and Curriculum 6–8 and AVID District Director, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, TN: “What I love about AVID is that AVID ensures that every student has opportunities when they finish K–12. And so in our district, our mission is that all students graduate college- and career-ready, but AVID gives us the avenue to actually make that happen. I’ve always been very passionate about opportunities for students in my 28 years of education, and I’ve done what I could to help with that. But then when AVID came, in my role as a district leader, I was like, ‘Yes, this is how we have common language. This is how we have common expectations when we walk in a room. And this is how we look at data and say somebody’s missing in this group.’ . . . We have to look at our student outcomes, and if it’s not equitable for everybody, we have to come back around the table. So for me, AVID gives us the language and the same tools to use to make sure that every student, when they leave us, it’s their choice where they go, and they’re not bound by barriers. It’s not just a pretty statement on the wall. . . . I love AVID.”
  • Theresa Guy, Academic Intervention Specialist, King Middle School, Santa Rosa County Schools, FL: Theresa, who works with students not achieving well on state testing, says, “Bringing AVID into my classroom will help get those kids engaged in the content, learning and developing the skills that they need to be successful in the future. . . . It gets them more engaged and out of their seat and active in their learning. It’s a different approach in the classroom that everyone can be involved [in].”
  • Dr. Ronnie Harrison, Principal, Lafayette Renaissance Charter High School, Charter Schools USA, LA: “[It’s] the attitude, the positive vibes that all of these educators have and how they are impacting students in their schools. We have quite a few new teachers, and for them to understand the purpose of AVID and how we’re here to motivate a population of students that normally wouldn’t get the guidance or the positive people around them to push them to do their very best. All these great ideas are going to build a strong school in Lafayette, Louisiana.”
  • Stacie Sollars, Principal, Mark Denman Elementary School, Danville School District 118, IL: “Our AVID coach is amazing, and she organizes, every year for us, a community college and career day. Last year, we had about 35 presenters come to our school—just different businesses and colleges within our community and around that came and presented to our kiddos. So we had, the local news anchorman came, and we had ‘Touch a Truck’ in the parking lot, where they had fire trucks, but also the water company and different things. So we like to build community within our building, but also within our town as well.”
  • Angela Murr, Information Literacy Specialist, Mendez Elementary School, San Marcos Consolidated ISD, TX: “We have an hour of clubs, every single Friday, where every single teacher shuts down. K–5 students all pick a club, and it’s their passions, so we see that they know that’s coming, and they work hard in the classroom because we know that they’re going to get to something that they love. And it’s also things like career readiness. . . . They’re looking at things, like, ‘Hey, I want to be a photographer. This photography stuff in the club is cool.’ It’s been a game-changer for us. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” She adds, “So K–1, actually, they have where their K–1 teachers have a long hallway, and they get to just travel to each room and do STEM/STEAM activities. . . . They have cardboard building, where there’s just a million cardboard boxes in there, and they come out with these structures that look like the size of their homes. . . . We have kinder kids walking out like ‘I’m an engineer!’”
  • Roy Jackson, Assistant Principal, Daisy Bates Elementary School, Pulaski County Special School District, AR: “We have taken our fifth-graders on field trips to . . . technical college . . . so we’re just exposing them at a young age to get them college-ready.”
  • Angela Kennedy, Math Teacher, King Middle School, Santa Rosa County District Schools, FL: Angela believes that AVID is beneficial partly because it is “something that students can focus on instead of just classroom academics. This expands what they can learn in school. Organization, time management—those things aren’t necessarily in one textbook, so it reaches out to a lot of students.” She adds, “It’s not just teaching them how to come to school and take notes for something. How to use those notes, bring those notes to life, not just the classroom but at all levels—it’s a big career connection. . . . I want to help them with that. Interviews, communication, social and cultural intelligence—it’s going to make a big difference. . . . I love AVID. Go AVID!”
  • Dr. Ileana Farney, Principal, Central Middle School, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, KS: “All the high schools have pathways for college and career. Our hope is to get our middle-schoolers already thinking about it before they get to high school, about which college and career readiness they want to be on. . . . AVID seems to be a good system to help implement that program.” She talks more about her school’s goal for student success: “We have a north star, or a goal. By 2031, we want 100% of our high school graduating seniors to be diploma-plus ready, and what diploma-plus stands for is they are graduating with not only a high school diploma, but they are graduating with a high school diploma plus something else, whether that’s a good ACT score to get into college, college credits, some kind of certificate in the industry—so it’s something more than ‘I have a high school diploma. When I graduate high school, I already know and am on a pathway to a career.’”
  • Michael Kochan, Science Teacher, Mesa High School, Mesa Public Schools, AZ: Michael has many students who are focused on careers rather than college. Even though their career path is set, he says that these students still need to develop transferable career skills while in high school, so they are prepared for whatever field they end up in. “They always kind of forget about the marketing aspect. You’ve got to be able to talk to people in order to get them to want you to come and work on their properties.” He shares that these skills give them options, so they can say, “’I can go get my job. . . . I don’t have to just be what my family says I need to be. I can be what I wanna be.’”
  • Martay Monroe, AVID District Director, Richland County School District One, SC: Martay talks about the importance of building relationships with students and helping them see that “’I am enough.’” She also adds that her goal is to make kids “thirsty” in their learning and get them interested to come back for more.
  • Todd Marcantonio, Co-AVID District Director, Lawrence Public Schools, KS: “If you can’t see it, you can’t achieve it. . . . You want them to go to college, but you never get them on a college campus—they can’t see what that’s like, right? I think that’s an important part for kids. . . . They need to be able to see what’s possible.”
  • Leah Wisdom, Co-AVID District Director, Lawrence Public Schools, KS: “Let’s do this different. The kid that is your worst kid maybe behaviorally might be the kid that needs to see a college campus and literally change the trajectory of their life. . . . It’s the same thing with the kids in elementary school who get in trouble and miss recess, and you’re like, they need recess more than any other child in this class, but now they’re missing that opportunity. . . . How does that impact and affect them?”
  • Dr. Bruce Eschler, Principal, Jordan High School, Canyons School District, UT: “We need to look at students through a non-deficit lens. We need to make sure we see them as who they are. . . . We need to become students of our students. We need to understand, not who we think they are or who we want them to be, but who are they, and how do we take them.” He adds context from his own experience, saying, “I didn’t have AVID, but I had a teacher who saw that in me. I was not college-ready until Miss Demall, Kathy Demall. I’ve got a PhD because of that woman. . . . She said, in my 10th grade English class, ‘Why are you in my class? Why are you not in honors? Why are you not college-bound?’ And I’ve been trying to pay it forward ever since.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How can you help students pave their way to personal success?
  • How can you help students pave their way to academic success?
  • How can you help students pave their way to career success?
  • What strategies and insights stood out to you from this episode?
  • What is a strategy, mindset, or approach you’d like to implement moving forward?