In the last post, the topic of Institutional Agents was discussed as part of the protective factors that help build the academic resiliency of students to be successful in school. This academic resiliency has been found to be critical in the achievement of traditionally underserved youth and their ability to attend and succeed in college.
Much of this blog has captured actual student voice as the driving factor in the messages shared. This post is no different, and highlights two powerful words shared by a 17 year old, low-income, university-bound, Latina student. Those words: Endless Possibilities. And what gave her such hope? What did she credit such a grand compliment to? The answer = AVID -- the critical cog through middle and high school that got her to where she needed to be.
AVID stands for "Advancement Via Individual Determination." But more than a fancy acronym, I found in my research with high-achieving, low-income, Latino students that AVID was the most commonly referenced institutional agent by the students. One of these students explained AVID as “a program that helps students not only gain the necessary skills to be successful in college, but it also helps first generation students learn how to go through the college application.” Much of the rest of this post is dedicated to different student voices in regards to AVID.
According to the students, AVID taught them good note-taking and organizational skills and that it also taught them about how to prepare for and apply to college, including accessing financial aid opportunities. One student who joined AVID late in high school did so for the college support aspect. She stated, “I’m the first generation and I really don’t know anything about college, transcripts, admissions and everything.” The student’s friends who were in AVID encouraged her to join because “you might really need help in the whole scholarship process, information about admissions and the college experiences.” Re-emphasizing the importance many of the students placed on the AVID program, one student stated, “I don’t think I would have gone to college if the AVID teachers wouldn’t have pushed me to the right track for a four-year program because no one in my family went to college.”
In the same vein, another student reported about her AVID experience that, “People say sometimes it’s not worth it. But I think it’s worth it.” She indicated that the AVID teacher had found “all these scholarships. She’s on top of you so you get your deadlines in, and that’s just been pretty cool.” Another student stated that AVID “motivates you to go to college,” while another student explained that AVID is not just about preparing to apply, but understanding how college works. He commented that AVID “made me come to reality because I was thinking of maybe going to all these different colleges, then the teachers said, you have to look at tuition and see what programs they offer.” This insight helped him to narrow the selections of colleges.
In addition to the college assistance aspect of AVID, another student commented that, having been in AVID since sixth grade, what he most enjoyed was the tutorial support. He stated that in the tutorials “you ask a question on a certain topic you’re not comfortable with and as a group, you try to solve it.” Another student shared that in AVID, the teachers help to “basically plan out your 4 years.”
This is how one AP teacher summarized the impact of AVID on Latino students in her classes: “I’ve been amazed at how dedicated to, and maybe even reliant, on the programs such as AVID that the students are. It has been important to the Latino students who have been successful in my class.”
A final student statement was hopeful of the future because of AVID: “I tell people, AVID doesn’t really change who you are, but what you will become . . . I think that’s amazing.” The student finished her thought with AVID directs “you in what you’re going to do, and gives you, like, endless possibilities, I just think that’s amazing.”
Another student who had to drop AVID because of her schedule stated that the note-taking and organizational strategies taught in AVID were still being utilized and that the greatest benefit from having been in the program was “it helped most with college information . . . the stuff I do know about college was because I was in AVID.”
So - what practical steps can schools take to help? Offer AVID. Funnel kids into AVID. Appreciate AVID and its teachers for the "endless possibilities" that can exist for students who may otherwise not have that opportunity. We need to have high expectations for students, and AVID is a way in which we help communicate those expectations to students - for their own futures - while remembering that most traditionally underserved youth do not decide in high school that they want to be successful in school - most decide and act on that in middle school. Which may be haunting when hearing quick clips of these two students who indicated that they had wanted to be in AVID in middle school but they believed they were not allowed to take it because they were not "selected." One student, who eventually enrolled in AVID in high school stated, “I remember I really wanted to be in the program in seventh grade but I didn’t get in because I guess they chose the people.” Another student recounted a recent conversation with friends who had been in AVID since middle school and asked them “How come I was never invited” to join AVID in middle school.
Powerful reminders as schools across the nation go into their scheduling cycles for next year... What endless possibilities exist, and for whom, where you work?
Being caught in the middle of two friends arguing, being caught in the middle of parents separating, and being caught in the middle of right and wrong. Being caught in the middle is hard – we often feel torn and unsure of what to do. It can be an emotionally frightening place to be.
So why would schooling be any different? Being caught in the middle between the safety of elementary school, and the independence of high school is a juncture called middle school. And it is hard. And it is critical that in this space we provide the protective factors necessary for students to build academic resiliency so that students start high school on the right path, with the correct mindset towards success in life.
In my research, a key factor in identifying what was “different” about high-achieving, low-income, Latino high school youth from their less successful peers was academic resiliency. This resiliency was critical to the success for each of the students, and the protective factors that fostered that resiliency were similar enough to code into a specific framework.
In order to build some essential background on resiliency, so that the word used in these writings is consistent with the readers’ context – a summary of resiliency is provided below.
Resilience was explained by Bryan (2005) as “the capacity of an individual to overcome difficult and challenging life circumstances and risk factors” (p. 220). A classic and more specific definition as it relates to academic resilience was offered by Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1994) who stated that it is “the heightened likelihood of success in school and other life accomplishments despite environmental adversities brought about by early traits, conditions, and experiences” (p. 46).
Benard (2004) explained that resiliency is not an isolated trait that some children have, and that others do not have. Rather it is the “innate capacity bolstered by environmental protective factors” (p. 9). Therefore, all students have the capacity to be resilient but this resilience is often in need of being fostered by environmental forces. As suggested by Reis, Colbert, and Hebert (2005), by studying the resiliency in “academically talented students” (p. 112) who have overcome the odds based on their life stories and situations, efforts can be made to recreate the outside forces that helped to foster academic resiliency in students. This suggestion was echoed by Vargas-Reighley (2005) who stated, “By understanding what factors promote resilience, it is argued that we may be more effective at designing prevention and intervention programs that build on existing strengths” (p. 3).
The last quotation stated that we need to understand what factors promote this critical resiliency. Some factors have been discussed in earlier posts (motivation, challenge, Mindsets, etc), and they will continue in the future. For now, one such protective factor is institutional agents. This means teachers, other caring adults, programs, and supports within the school to aid with tutoring, life issues, college & career awareness, time & organizational skills, as well as opportunities for school connectedness. It is the deep discussion of these specific issues that will fuel next week’s post, and provide take-away’s for schools that can immediately be done to help build this critical resiliency in all students. After all, it is hard to be caught in the middle....
The middle of the night. The middle of a road trip. The middle of the day; and the middle of the week. Each of these spaces is easily overlooked as crucial in the continuum of here-to-there.
For example, the beginning of a journey is exciting, and the end of a journey is held with anticipation. My daughter began Kindergarten this year – the beginning of the journey of education is hyper-exciting for her. She loves school, she loves learning and she begs to do her homework, read and write stories. My professional experience, until recently, had me working in a high school setting where every year Graduation marked an amazing celebration of success for students who had made it to the end of their K-12 journey.
But between elementary school and high school lies an exceptionally important experience, with deep implications for the rest of one’s life, at an early age. That experience? Middle School. Middle School matters. A lot. Because if you don’t make it through the middle, or if your path takes a wrong turn, goes off course, or you lose direction in the middle of any journey – you are bound for troubles, pot-holes, and problems.
This week’s post features excerpts from the research literature, and my own research findings to further elevate the importance of middle school in developing the academic resiliency that is proven to be so essential to close the achievement gap for low-income, Latino youth. In the students I did my work with – none of them decided in high school that they were going to be successful and college-bound. That decision was made earlier.
The middle matters….
Reason 1: Middle School is a pivotal point in the academic futures of students. It was stated by Shiu, Kettler, and Johnsen (2009) that “the middle school years are a critical time in students’ lives. These years are the foundation for students to learn more about themselves, select their close friends, and form educational aspirations for the future” (p. 58). In addition to this, middle school offers a prime opportunity to reach out, particularly to Latino students and parents because when planning for their futures, middle school students need “detailed information about which curricular programs lead to college admission” and it would “greatly assist many students in making choices that promote higher levels of educational attainment” (Schneider et al., 2006, p. 201). It is also where students get aligned for which courses they will take in high school.
The middle matters….
Reason 2: A specific barrier facing Latino youth that often begins in middle school is centered on the experience of Math. Schneider, Martinez, and Owens (2006) shared that in middle school, segregation in math classes begins to track students differently, and those students who do not make it to Algebra by eighth grade are less likely to take advanced math classes in high school and are less likely to express “higher educational aspirations in the tenth grade” (p. 200). A key barrier to access for students in the public university systems of California is the successful completion of Algebra II as a minimum requirement.
The middle matters….
But why else does the middle matter? In my research, 100% of the high achieving Latino youth that were studied began their educational journey as English Language Learners (ELL’s) in elementary school, or upon schooling in U.S. schools following their immigration. Insomuch, they were relegated to English Language Development (ELD) courses. What is really key for educators to take note of, however, is that 96% of those students were reclassified from ELD during their elementary or middle school years. This turned out to be a critical factor, because the longer it takes for a student to be reclassified to an all English program in school, the wider the gap between them and their White peers grows. Gandara and Contreras (2009) stated, “If children are not exposed to the English of the classroom—the vocabulary and rhetorical style that make up academic English—they will find it very difficult to decipher academic texts and write essays” (p. 125).
The middle matters….
As school systems begin to assess gaps in achievement between different groups, it is an important highlight to note that the development of academic resiliency is important for all students. It is exponentially critical for traditionally underserved youth. And as explained here, there should be an urgency for developing those protective factors that foster academic resiliency by middle school. The middle matters…
Mimicking the urgency that a runner feels at the start of a race, so too should educators feel about a race against the clock with middle level students. This critical urgency is with the development ofacademic resiliency that is highlighted by a sense of agency, and a growth mindset in students as they prepare for high school.
My own sense of urgency with the matter comes from my research with low-income, 1st generation college-bound Latino high school students. Next week, we will return to their voice and the experiences in middle school that were telling to their futures. This week, we will build the foundation of critical urgency by reviewing the works of Johnston (2004) and Dweck (2006).
Ready, Set, Go!
Johnston (2004) wrote about the different levels of agency that students may have, “Children who doubt their competence set low goals and choose easy tasks, and they plan poorly. When they face difficulties, they become confused, lose concentration, and start telling themselves stories about their own incompetence. In the long run they disengage, decrease effort, generate fewer ideas, and become passive and discouraged” (p. 40). He continued, “When children decide that they have no agency with respect to their learning, their learning is limited in terms of both personal experience and potential trajectory” (p. 41). According to Johnston, this often begins in 5th grade, and worsens through the middle level years of school.
Fortunately for our youth, a student can develop agency and have the opposite experience of what was explained above. Johnston wrote that students with a strong sense of agency are “competent, (they) plan well, choose challenging tasks, and set higher goals” (p. 41). In short, students with agency had a mindset towards success, and they achieve success. This sense of agency is aligned with Dweck’s growth mindset framework discussed in the prior blog-posting.
In fact, in Mindset: The new psychology of success (2006), Dweck specifically pointed to the transition from elementary school to middle level schooling as being a very difficult time for adolescents. Insomuch, this is a time when the development of and fostering of academic resiliency is highly needed – especially for traditionally underserved youth. At this time in school-life, Dweck recognized that “The work gets much harder, the grading policies toughen up, the teaching becomes less personalized. And this all happens while students are coping with their new adolescent bodies and roles. Grades suffer, but not everyone’s grades suffer equally” (p. 57).
Both authors found that students with “indistinguishable grades” in elementary school began to separate from one another in junior high school. Students with a fixed mindset showed an immediate drop-off in their grades, while those with a growth mindset showed an increase in their grades. Both sets of grades trended through the middle level experience for students. Look in horror to how Dweck shared that some students with a fixed mindset explained poor academic performance, “Many maligned their abilities: I am the stupidest or I suck in math,” or the students placed blame on their teachers with negative comments, name calling, etc.
Ready, Set Go!
This is why middle school is such a critical age. The good news? Whether it is Johnston’s discussion of student agency, or Dweck’s terminology of fixed mindset versus growth mindset, they both play directly into academic resiliency in students. And they can all be fostered and developed within students. It is a race against the clock with the malleable spirits of the children within our care that we can help change the trajectory of student futures, with the aid and support from home.
So what now? Next week we will reflect upon student voice from the middle school experience for high achieving Latino youth in high school. Then following that, we will dive into the practical side of the equation on how schools and families can foster these different protective factors in their students.
Ready, Set, Go!
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY:
Johnston, P. H. (2004). Choice words: How our language affects children’s learning.
Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
"Critical Resilience" This work is dedicated to the equal and fair education of all children, locally and globally.