Chamber AVID by KM

From left to right, MHA representative Jennifer Smith, Rim Country Middle School principal Jennifer White and Payson High School principal Jeff Simon talk about the AVID program that will begin in both schools this fall.

A pair of educators teamed up with the MHA’s Jennifer Smith to talk about the opportunities available now and in the coming years for area students in a presentation during Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon at Mazatzal Hotel & Casino on Feb. 4.

Payson High School principal Jeff Simon and Rim Country Middle School principal Jennifer White highlighted the AVID and NAVIT programs that offer PHS students college credit, as well as about visits to college campuses.

AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. It is a nonprofit that helps schools shift to a more fair, student-centered approach, according to the AVID website. “We train 80,000 educations annually to close the opportunity gap, so they can prepare all students for college, careers, and life.”

RCMS and PHS will become AVID schools starting in the 2020-21 school year. Students will receive support so they are college and career ready. Teachers will learn various instructional strategies to help prepare students for the demands of college and career.

Smith said the MHA got involved in bringing the AVID program to Payson through a conversation between her and a friend.

“It was a very grass root effort.” She said. “It started as a conversation between myself and a friend of mine over coffee. Both of us have children at the middle school and we were sharing how thrilled we were with the programs that we are seeing happening at the middle school.

“So, this started out as a kudos and we were just talking and brainstorming about ways that in an ideal world we could help to continue to grow these programs and develop these programs to make them so that they’re even stronger and better so that the students come out with leadership skills and everything that the leadership is trying to develop.

“It’s one of those conversations that just continued to roll around in my head day after day after day. And, of course, MHA’s mission is to promote education and help the Rim Country. I just couldn’t ignore it any more. So I took it to our board and our board embraced the idea of coming up with ‘Hey, what can we do, how can we partner with you to take what you have already done and the foundational work that you have already built to just continue to grow this and make it better?’

We met with Aspire, we met with a small group with the leadership, the AVID program sort of settled out of the dust and we were able to sort of implement one of the things that was really important to us was that we not re-invent the wheel and AVID is very definitely a wheel that is incredibly well invented.”

Smith said more than 7,000 schools in the United States have already implemented AVID with encouraging results.

“The matriculation rates the sticking rates for students to go into college and then stay from year one to year two are phenomenally higher for AVID students,” Smith said. “They are generally better organized, which as a mom I would absolutely love.”

Smith said she loves what is happening in education in Payson.

“Some of the things that we at MHA really wanted to embrace was we were already working with the high level students with our support of the Aspire Arizona Foundation and the dual enrollment,” she said. “And the dual enrollment program, phenomenal, if you haven’t heard these statistics already, they’re amazing. Since 2016, 3,819 dual enrollment credits have been earned by Payson High School students. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will. The average cost conservatively calculated, of a single college credit in the state of Arizona if you include room and board, tuition and fees, is approximately $1,000 a credit. If you do the math, that means that Aspire has contributed approximately $3.8 million worth of education to our students. This is amazing. These families don’t (have that) money. As a parent, I look at this and think this is $30,000-$50,000 for these families, easily that these kids can be obtained.”

Smith also highlighted the MHA’s partnership with Payson Center For Success to help students in alternative programs.

“A lot of the students in that program are struggling to fit in a traditional education role,” Smith said. “There’s this middle ground where we weren’t meeting the needs of the students in the middle and that was where we saw AVID coming in and being able to just really meet that need.” Smith said. “The beauty is, we’re starting this year with sixth through 12th but the program is expandable, so we’re really, really excited to see can do in years to come and how we can partner with the schools to really just help you to exponentially grow your efforts in just the good work that you’re already doing.”

White thanked the MHA for its role in helping fund these programs.

“MHA has graciously supported our efforts and has committed to financially supporting our schools,” White said.

Simon talked about what’s happening at the high school and a new freshman academy they plan to start this fall.

“At the high school it’s going to look a little different,” he said. “We’re going to go outside the norm for AVID.

“We have about 130 students that have been identified that are going to go into a freshman academy. So all 130 of those students will receive the AVID teaching and also be in that freshman academy.

“The rest of the students, including those who’ve already advanced and taken the high school credits at the middle school, so they’re going to go onto to their sophomore year and we’re going to focus on those 130 kids. Now, those kids that have already jumped us, jumped the freshman year, if they want to be in those classes, we can work them in, but we’re going to focus on that 130 so we can get all those kids up to that advanced class.”

The freshman academy will focus on four core classes — English, math, science and one elective course.

“They’re not going to be having any other sophomores or anybody else taking those classes, it’s just going to be that group we’re focused on. We’re focused on all kids, but the freshman academy will be focused on them.”

Simon said the high school has two students who may wind up earning their associates degree at the same time they earn their high school diploma thanks to the Aspire program.

“We have 14, I think, classes that are dual enrollment,” Simon said. “We had over 1,000 credits earned last semester for students that are specifically at our high school taking those dual-enrollment classes.”

White said RCMS teachers will begin prepare their students for high school so they can hit the ground running as they then start to think ahead to college or other careers.

“We are so excited to start our program with our seventh-grade group, so by the time our kids get to high school, they’ll be ready to go in high school with all the skills they need,” she said.

“So, we will be targeting starting in middle school about 20-25 students that will have an elective that teaches them how to take great notes, how to apply for a scholarship, even before that how to write a great email.

“We will give them all those skills that they will need to really be successful and to prepare for college or high school where they can start taking those courses and hopefully we can have a lot more than two students graduating with their A.A., as well.

“Arizona’s big focus is college and career. So we make sure that we put some of those things in place for them to hopefully join APS or the fire department or the police department, but also to prepare our students for university.”

Contact the reporter at

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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