Program in Walla Walla sows seeds for college

The goal is to get students to continue their educations beyond high school.


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 or 526-8317.



PearlY says...

This sounds like a great program, with one glaring flaw: the goal of 100% college attendance for all students (if that's what "continue their educations after high school" means).

The world will always need plumbers, mechanics, sales clerks, real estate agents, etc., and there will always be students who lack the intellectual gifts needed to benefit from college. Will those people be better off delaying their entry into the job market for years and starting out their work lives saddled with a bunch of student loans? I don't think so.

A better goal would be to ensure that all students learn what college can and can't do for them, are thoroughly prepared for it if they are capable of benefitting and choose to go (without having to spend a year in remedial courses as so many do today), and have a solid general education if they choose some other path.

That being said, the techniques being used sound like something every student would benefit from, whether they go on to college or not. I would just hope that if they choose not, they do not feel themselves failures for what actually may be a wise decision.

Posted 22 April 2013, 12:01 p.m. Suggest removal

jennybuggs says...

I totally agree

Posted 23 April 2013, 11 a.m. Suggest removal

RuralBoy says...

I think you just called Mechanics and Plumbers stupid...With shows your ignorance of the trades.

Posted 23 April 2013, 4:52 a.m. Suggest removal

Iopine says...

ruralboy - maybe if you comprehended the context of the post you wouldn't have made your post?

Posted 23 April 2013, 9:14 a.m. Suggest removal

PearlY says...

Absolutely not! I AM pretty ignorant of the trades, but I'm not stupid, which is what I'd have to be to think mechanics and plumbers are.

Grammatically, the sentence that mentions mechanics and plumbers discusses TWO sets of people, tradesmen and, as a separate set, people who lack the intellectual skills to benefit from college. (Re-read that sentence with the word 'also' or 'furthermore' after the 'and' and you'll see it more clearly.)

By the way, even that second group may not be low intelligence (stupid) but simply lack the particular kind of intellectual curiosity or verbal facility that makes for a successful college experience. Having taught a few college classes, I've seen plenty of those.

But there are also some stupid people, and there's also not much value in their college attendance, to them or anyone else.

Posted 23 April 2013, 7:10 p.m. Suggest removal

Log in to comment