Schools broaden horizons for students ‘in the middle’

R.B. middle school and RBR expand AVID programs for average students


An educational program designed for average students has been expanded at both Red Bank Middle School and Red Bank Regional (RBR) High School.

RBR students participating in the AVID program are pictured with their teachers: (l-r, bottom row) Linda Garcia and David Clark; (top row) Assistant Principal Risa Clay, AVID 10th-grade teacher Jessica Roselli, Raquel Rodriguez, AVID ninth-grade teacher John DeBarberie, Zeir Garcia and Brody Fenton. RBR students participating in the AVID program are pictured with their teachers: (l-r, bottom row) Linda Garcia and David Clark; (top row) Assistant Principal Risa Clay, AVID 10th-grade teacher Jessica Roselli, Raquel Rodriguez, AVID ninth-grade teacher John DeBarberie, Zeir Garcia and Brody Fenton. The Red Bank districts are the only two in the state to offer the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, according to Red Bank Public Schools Superintendent Laura C. Morana.

Morana explained that like most schools, the Red Bank Middle School offers gifted and talented and special education programs. However, unlike other schools, the borough also offers a specialized program for its average-performing students.

“This program is for the ‘kid in the middle,’ not the honors students. It’s for the kid who never would have considered college. The goal is to get the ‘kid in the middle’ into honors classes and begin to think that college is a viable option.

“It opens the door for them. It teaches them to advocate for themselves and not to wait until an opportunity comes to them,” Morana explained.

This year the AVID program at the middle school has expanded from grades four to six up to and including grade eight.

“The program teaches students how to be organized. Children are taught proper study skills, note taking, how to utilize resources, and their reading comprehension is improved,” Morana said.

According to the AVID website, “Typically, the students will be the first in their families to attend college, and many are from low-income or minority families. AVID pulls these students out of their unchallenging courses and puts them on the college track: acceleration instead of remediation.”

“It’s an expensive program. We use money from private donations here. A lot of people don’t realize the importance of a program like this. The skills learned are so important, and many people lack that understanding,” Morana said.

Morana said her goal is to become a pilot site for the AVID program within the next two years.

“The program is successful in New Jersey, but not as successful as it is in New York City. In Texas and California, it’s a part of [the] curriculum,” Morana said.

Currently 14 eighth-graders are enrolled in the AVID program. They gain new experiences, such as visiting colleges, and take college-preparatory courses.

Middle school teacher Christopher Ippolito spoke of a seventh-grade student’s experience with AVID.

“I’m so proud of his organizational skills. It’s a complete turn-around. He took his first visit to college, and when he came back, he was so thrilled and motivated. I know he’ll succeed,” Ippolito said of his student.

Parents are kept well informed of their child’s progress, which is a key piece in the middle school curriculum that Morana said is usually lacking.

Morana hopes to expand the parental component of the program this year by encouraging parents to lead some meetings.

Ippolito said that his student told him, “Our parents need to know we can go to college, that it’s an option.”

Students must apply for the program, and the application process at the middle school consisted of an essay and interview, Ippolito said.

“The parents are thrilled. We had 50 applications for the seventh-grade program and only 20 places,” Morana said.

Qualifications for the program require that students have a GPA between 2.0 and 3.5, average-to-high test scores, college potential with support and, most important, the desire and determination to work hard on academics.

Last year RBR, located in Little Silver, adopted the AVID program in an effort to support its “students in the middle.”

“While RBR has an excellent college enrollment rate, we aim to increase the enrollment for all our students in four-year and very competitive colleges,” Assistant Principal Risa Clay said in September.

“The focus of AVID is to prepare all students for the rigors of college, so they are prepared and ready to succeed and meet these academic challenges,” Clay continued.

The AVID program originally opened with 15 students from Red Bank, who had been in the program at the middle school.

This year, the program has grown to 31 participants, with many of last year’s class moving to the second year and an additional freshman class of 19, including representation from RBR’s other sending school districts.

Students commit to the program for their four years of high school, essentially as a permanent elective in their school schedule.

According to an RBR press release, the AVID program is divided into three areas. The first, or base, curriculum includes emphasis on research, note taking, writing and public speaking, and topics like “Strategies for Success” and “College and Careers.”

Secondly, a tutorial component stresses collaborative study groups, problem solving and higher-level thinking questions.

Study groups are guided by college students twice weekly through a partnership with Monmouth University.

A third aspect to the program includes motivational activities like guest speakers, field trips, seminars and team-building exercises.

AVID’s mission is to prepare and motivate students so they may increase their educational rigor each year and enroll and succeed in the school’s most challenging courses such as honors, Advanced Placement and the new International Baccalaureate program.

“Our aim is to provide the type of instructional leadership and teaching methodologies that make college a reality for all students,” Clay said.

While the group of students taking the AVID elective is limited, RBR’s goal is to train additional teachers each year, so that the teaching methods of the AVID program can be extended to all students in the district.

The cost of AVID training and program materials are funded under a major federal grant, which RBR received for creating smaller learning communities.

The current AVID site team consists of 16 faculty members, who additionally serve as individual mentors to the students in the program.