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Sims AVID brings focus on college prep success
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Students in the AVID Leaders class discuss a project under the guidance of AVID adviser Sonja Vernon. - photo by Alena Cowley

A busload of Sims Elementary School students will be on their way to Georgia Institute of Technology today as part of Sim's new curriculum averring that it's definitely not too early for elementary students to start thinking about college.

The curriculum is called "Advancement Via Individual Determination," or AVID. Sims Elementary School has become the first AVID elementary school in Georgia.

Sims students, along with AVID middle and high school students from across the state, will walk the Georgia Tech campus Nov. 2 as part of AVID Day. The students will tour the college, watch the homecoming parade and game, and eat lunch on campus.

Sims Elementary student Ya'donnis Hardaway said earlier this month that he was particularly excited about the trip. The fifth-grader was already thinking about going to Georgia Tech for college.

"I like that it sets a goal for us to go to college," Hardaway said of the AVID class.

Hardaway is one of some 30 students who are part of the AVID Leaders class at Sims. These students have big dreams and a big determination to make it happen.

For example, student Aaliyah Smith said she wants to be a zoologist, and student Maxwell Thomas said he wants to be a chef. Thomas said he was not thinking about college before he came to the AVID Leaders class in August. But now the fifth-grader wants to use AVID to help him become a chef one day.

"Even if people tell you that you can't go to college, you can if you believe in yourself," Thomas said when asked about his favorite lesson in AVID.

Student Davier Smith explained how the AVID Leaders class has a "college of the week," which students use to research college requirements.

While the curriculum motivates students for college, AVID adviser Sonja Vernon said the program is much more. The aim is to help the students be successful, according to Vernon.

"Our goal is to make them the best students that they can be," Vernon said. "Of course, that's going to make sure that they're able to write well, speak well. But, most important is the critical thinking piece."

Rather than having everything explained, Vernon said students using the AVID curriculum are encouraged to have, "wait time and make sure they are thinking for themselves."

The students learn from their mistakes and still have support from teachers. The support even extends to their fellow students. Vernon said it was important, "with middle school being so challenging for them, socially."

"I love to have them collaborate a lot," Vernon said. "And it gets them to respect each other, even if they do not know each other."

There is only one AVID Leaders class at Sims that students participate in based on teacher recommendation and test scores. However, the entire school is exposed to AVID strategies from their teachers, who receive training from Vernon.

Vernon said organization was a big component. The school gave every student a 3-inch binder and an agenda to keep track of assignments. According to Vernon, students see the positive results of being organized and are encouraged enough to keep it up.

"To me, the motivation is the key to the success of AVID," Vernon said, describing the organization as the "mechanics."

She said the elementary students are learning skills and training they will hold onto all the way through high school. And it is learning about colleges, like the Nov. 2 field trip to Georgia Tech, that adds to the students' motivation.

Vernon said the AVID students will see college students who the AVID students will think "look like me."

"Then, they're even more so motivated to say, ‘If they can do it, I can do it,'" Vernon said.