6:09 p.m. PDT October 14, 2015
The Adam Stephens Middle School gym filled with more than 1,100 excited students and staff for the Wednesday assembly.
The atmosphere was alive and joyous, celebratory and energized. And with good reason.
The school was recently approved to begin a nearly two-year process to reach national demonstration status for its schoolwide AVID program.
AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a program that strives to prepare young students for college and life after higher education.
While in the program, students are provided academic, social, and financial support, given help with college visits, talks with families, and more.
Students apply to be part of the program and are evaluated on their grades, behavior, drive and personal circumstances before being accepted. The program is designed to help students who wouldn’t usually have the support or resources to go to college.
Those accepted into the program learn specific strategies and skills that will help better prepare them for higher education. They are taught how to organize a binder, manage their schedules, track their grades, apply for college, and more, all beginning in middle school and continuing through high school.
This year, about 245 students will participate in the program at Stephens, as the school begins the long process of being evaluated, given feedback to improve and then re-evaluated to possibly gain the national demonstration status.
“This journey is just starting, but you’ve shown that you all are ready to take that step,” Principal Jennifer Madland told the students during the assembly.
National demonstration status is the highest of four levels of recognition a school can achieve in Avid. The others are certified, highly certified, and school-wide site of distinction.
The status “shows Stephens is a model school for other schools to see what AVID looks like and what it can be like,” said Barb Bamford, an AVID coordinator.
Twenty percent of Stephens students are part of the AVID program, which makes it one of the largest AVID programs in the state. However, the school uses many of the program’s strategies and resources for all students and classes, such as its advisory program, making it a schoolwide program.
Stephens Middle School is one of the 18 schools in the Salem-Keizer School District with an AVID program, with all middle and high schools having a program, but it is one of a only three schools in Oregon to be considered for national demonstration status.
In its 2014 school report card, Stephens was rated above average, compared to schools with similar demographics. Nearly 75 percent of Stephens’ students are students of color, 51 percent are English language learners, and 87 percent are economically disadvantaged.
One hundred percent of AVID students from Stephens have graduated and gone on to a four-year collegiate institution.
“AVID gives the element of seeing you are making a difference in kids lives,” Bamford said. “You get to see them move from tragedy to amazing things and you get to be part of it.”
Elizabeth Quirino, 17, started in the AVID program when she attended Stephens Middle School. She is now preparing to graduate from McKay High School to study social work and communications at Portland State University.
“AVID provided me with a straight path to college,” she said. “Thanks to AVID, I have the next eight years of my life planned out; I have more maturity and respect for others.”
When Quirino was in 7th grade, the AVID program was just beginning at Stephens and Quirino had no idea what her future would look like.
She said she was surrounded by negative thoughts and feedback from her family and didn’t know how to prepare for college.
Through the program, she learned a lot about herself.
“AVID is more than a (class); it’s more like a family,” she said.
She also said she was able to open her mind to a world of possibilities and gain the skills needed to make those dreams a reality.
“I am thankful for the incredibly huge binder,” she laughed as she addressed the younger students. “All my hard work is paying off.”
Quirino isn’t the only one with a success story. There are many students like her that are on track for this kind of successful life.
Mariyah Zepeda, 17, is also about to graduate from McKay High School and is deciding between New York University, Boston University and University of Oregon to study journalism and psychology.
When she addressed the middle school students, she told them to believe in themselves and to never stop working hard.
“When you get to high school, keep working hard, don’t stop,” she said. “Don’t ever stop.”
npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate