Middle school promotes independent learning

Program helps average students reach their potential

BY LAYLI WHYTE Correspondent


RED BANK – With the ever-increasing focus on “teaching to the test,” brought on by the federal No Child Left Behind mandate, a new program at the Red Bank Middle School will concentrate on teaching independent learning and critical thinking.

District Superintendent Laura Morana said at a meeting with the press last week that the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program will work for those students who are “in the middle” in terms of academic achievement.

“It is for the students who are average,” she said, “but who have the potential to do better than that.”

To be eligible for the program, which would be an elective class, students must have a GPA between 2.0 – 3.5 and choose to participate in the program.

“This is not remediation,” she said. “This is not for children at risk.”

Morana said the program focuses on four areas of learning: writing, inquiry, collaboration and reading, which she said will help the students learn how to be independent learners.

“The program looks at individual needs,” she said. “It brings out the talents and abilities that these kids already have. The program really helps kids turn around the way the think about themselves and the way they think about the world.”

The goal of the AVID program, according to Morana, is to promote the enrollment of students in honors classes, especially when they reach high school.

“The children will be trained in different ways of posing questions,” she said. “The program will train them to think differently, and to write about what they learn differently. We’re the first district in Monmouth County to use this program, and it has been quite successful elsewhere.”

According to information provided by Morana, 95 percent of California AVID graduates are enrolled in a college or a university, 71 percent are attending a four-year university, 24 percent are attending a two-year college, and 75 percent of the graduates are working either full- or part-time to put themselves through college.

She said that a team of seven teachers, along with herself and Red Bank Middle School Principal Terrance Wilkins will be traveling to Atlanta, Ga., in July for training in the program.

“I’ve been through the training before,” she said, “when I was working in Piscataway. I’ll be there as a sort of team leader. There they will learn how to implement the program, how to communicate the goals of the program with the families, and how to recruit speakers and tutors.”

A sample of a schedule for the AVID program has the AVID curriculum on Mondays and Wednesdays, with tutorials on Tuesdays and Thursdays, during which students will receive help in areas of their regular studies.

The AVID curriculum includes writing, discussion of college and careers, as well as strategies for success.

Fridays would be reserved for field trips, trips to the media center, guest speakers and motivational activities.

Students will also be required to keep a study binder containing all school assignments as well as a learning log where they will keep track of what they learn each day.

“One key factor is that the kid has to want to be in the program,” said Morana. “If the child does not want to take on the extra work, we cannot, and the parents cannot, force it upon the child.”

There is a selection process for the program that calls for an application and an interview.

“The interviews reveal a great deal,” said Morana. “In Piscataway, I saw kids coming in dressed in a suit, like they are going on an interview for a job. They conduct themselves that way.”

Morana said there will be between 18 and 20 students taking part in the program, which will amount to almost half of the eighth-grade class. The incoming eighth-grade class has fewer than 60 students.

“After we launch the program this year,” she said, “we’ll rethink to see if we’ll begin the program in the seventh grade in the future.”

The district will hold an ice cream social on Sept. 4 for the students who will be participating in AVID and their families, according to Morana.

More information about the AVID program can be found online at www.avidonline.org.