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"Advancement Via Individual Determination"… sounds like a no-nonsense recipe for success. Unbeknownst to many, Payson Unified School District is already two years into implementing the proven AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. This longstanding nonprofit organization was founded in 1980 and is currently benefiting over two million students worldwide. With technology and the nearly infinite amount of access to information, there is more "noise" than ever in 2021 for our youth. It will most certainly take individual determination for students to succeed no matter what one sets out to accomplish.

A few years ago, MHA Foundation found themselves financially supporting the Aspire Arizona Foundation (www.aspirearizona.com) and a curriculum at Payson Center for Success (PCS), the alternative high school in our district. By paying dual enrollment classes (classes taken for both high school and college credit), MHA felt that Aspire Arizona was assisting the top-level tier of students in Payson. At the same time, career development support was provided to PCS students who needed another option outside of the traditional high school experience. The problem was that this left a big void of emphasis with their mission in the local student body.

After creating a K-12 subcommittee with local education experts, MHA identified academic achievement, leadership development, and mentoring as the traits on which to target this group. While these are excellent skills to strive for, how does that intertwine with an already busy day of state standards the schools must accomplish? At their very first meeting, AVID was brought to the table. Jeff Simon, principal at Payson High School, was then able to enlighten the group on the specifics of this program. Immediately, it checked all the boxes on what the committee's mission was looking for, and AVID was put into motion for our local district.

According to their website (www.avid.org): "AVID is a nonprofit organization that provides educators with proven, real-world strategies to accelerate the performance of underrepresented students so that these students and all students across the entire campus succeed in college, career, and life." Essentially, it can take an average student and engrain their skills to be successful in higher levels of education. This success will now open doors of opportunities that were not available due to their fair to middlin' high school careers. AVID is in approximately 7,500 schools worldwide and 47 states across our nation. It proves its effectiveness with first-generation, low-income students by boasting a rate that an AVID student is four times more likely to complete a bachelor's degree in six years after high school in comparison to their peers. Specifically, in Arizona, 99% of AVID seniors graduated high school with an average GPA of 3.2. All of these seniors applied to a four-year college, with 71% of them being accepted.

Through the avenues of writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading, AVID will be felt in every secondary classroom as their strategies are to be implemented by all teachers this school year. Even though last year was a challenging year, an AVID class was taught to about 90 percent of the freshmen at Payson High. This year, a similar percentage of the incoming high school class will receive this course. In Rim Country Middle School, AVID was offered as an elective course during the '20-'21 school year. The number of students at the middle school taking the AVID-specific course this school year has tripled.

"It is an ongoing project for MHA Foundation, and we are committed to it," Jennifer Smith, Executive Board Member of MHA, stated. With more professional development on the docket for many teachers in the district this year, AVID should continue to reach more and more of Payson's students. Additionally, the endless testimonials from both students and teachers express that the "AVID effect" changes the mentality of the entire school. This is not only referencing the student's mindsets, but the staff's as well. Shifting into a growth mindset for everyone involved allows for goals to be set and reached with much more extraordinary tenacity. Every student that goes through the program comes out of it with a focused, post-high school goal and the steps to achieve it.

This goal system will only strengthen the growing CTE (Career Technical Education) program at PHS. With an already established list of CTE programs to choose from, PHS was able to add Engineering, Sports Medicine, and Nail Tech this year. With Aspire generously taking care of 1,224 dual enrollment classes in the core areas of English, math, and science since 2016, NAVIT (Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology) is footing the bill through grants in the CTE dual enrollment classes at the high school.

It is an inspiring time for the youth of our town. "I have never worked in, or heard of, a high school that has funded programs like this. Our kids are lucky, extremely lucky. Kids have every opportunity to be or do whatever they want as long as they can put the work in." Jeff Simon confidently conveyed with Jennifer Smith nodding in agreement.

Extending the thought that our students are fortunate by explaining that now RVN3, a different local nonprofit, is assisting with the extracurricular fees for the district, she concluded with: "There are becoming no roadblocks, financially, for our students."

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