Monday, April 22, 2013
WALLA WALLA — A culture of college is taking shape at Sharpstein Elementary.
Principal Matt Bona uses the expression to describe some of the changes introduced in the school this year.
A wall in the school’s cafeteria has been dedicated to the names of Sharpstein educators and the corresponding college or university from which they graduated.
Each classroom has also adopted a school, starting with pendants that were handed out to teachers to be displayed by classroom doors. Teachers were then free to add touches of college spirit in their rooms.
The schoolwide movement to get students thinking about college is being supported by the AVID Elementary program, introduced at Sharpstein last fall.
The school’s fourth- and fifth-grade students — about 180 in all — are the first elementary school students in Walla Walla Public Schools to take part in AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determation.
A California teacher established the academic support program in 1980 for her school. The model is now used throughout the country.
The program was launched at Walla Walla High School in 2008 with about 32 students each in the ninth and 10th grades.
The goal is to get all students in the program to continue their educations beyond high school. AVID is now also offered at Pioneer and Garrison middle schools.
Bona began leading Sharpstein in 2010 after working as an assistant principal at Wa-Hi, where he was part of the team that helped introduce the program to students. Although elementary-level program was still being developed then, Bona said he saw the potential AVID would have if offered to younger students.
“For many of them it was the first time at the high school that they even discussed going to college, or that it was something attainable for them,” he said.
At Sharpstein, the program is a combination of getting students introduced to the idea of college, and learning what college is, with the discipline to get on a college-ready path. The classroom component includes note-taking, organization of assignments and planning for projects, and accountability by having parents sign off on work each night.
“I knew kids would benefit from the organizational habits and note taking,” Bona said. “That, combined with getting kids at the elementary level thinking that college is attainable. Or for some, even hearing about college. What a diploma is, what a campus is, what a dorm room is.”
Sharpstein fourth-grade teacher Terri Gilbert said the AVID model fits into the regular classroom instruction. All students have large binders where they keep their daily notes and assignments. The binders also hold daily planners where students track upcoming work.
“It makes all learning more powerful and more efficient,” she said. “You’re putting everything in one place.”
Parents are asked to sign off on their child’s work each night, to review the notes for the day and any homework.
“There’s some great pieces to it,” said Gilbert, who is sponsoring the University of Montana in her classroom. “The organization piece is huge. And the parental communication.
“There’s some really powerful strategies for the kids to become successful as learners and in life.”
Continuity is part of the structure, Bona said, and Sharpstein was able to launch an elementary-level model because there are AVID programs at Walla Walla’s middle schools and high school.
“They want one long continuous AVID connection from elementary all the way to high school,” he said.
Bona said the school is still discussing whether to extend the program to third grade next year. Still, younger students are part of the greater culture of college conversation throughout the school.
“As they work up through the six years that they’re here, they’ll start to make connections,” Bona said.
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317.