Jan. 15, 2007

Exciting new learning programs at HLWW

By Jenni Sebora

Just as there are a lot of new things happening on the exterior of the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Schools, there are new and exciting things happening within the brick exterior of the schools as well – at all levels.

Among the exciting and innovative things that impact student learning at HLWW are several newly initiated programs.

Fast ForWord, a computer based program, was initiated at Humphrey Elementary and focuses on reading and language skills.

The AVID (Advanced Via Individual Determination) program was implemented at the middle school this year, and AP (Advanced Placement) courses were put in place this year at the high school level.

AVID is an elective class based on writing, reading, oral skills, organization, note-taking, and time management, which is taught by HLWW specially trained teachers. The program also provides on-site tutors.

Although the program has been around for about 30 years on the west coast of the United States, California predominantly, it has made its way throughout the US to more than 2,300 schools. It is also currently being used in 15 other countries.

Most recently, AVID made its way to Minnesota and has been implemented this year in six schools in Minnesota. HLWW is the only school that is not a Twin Cities area school to implement the program this year, HLWW high school guidance counselor Terri Collins noted.

In its first year at HLWW, it is currently serving 27-eighth-grade students and 25-ninth-grade students. Next year, tenth and seventh grades will be added; the following year, eleventh and sixth grades will be included, with ultimate plans for it to be offered in fifth through twelfth grades.

Students have to choose to be in the program and must complete an application, interview, and essay process to be admitted into the program or class.

The AVID class is intended for those students who have the potential and ability to do well in school, but for whatever reasons, are not working up to their potential.

Collins, who really got the AVID “wheels rolling” at HLWW, says she likes to “think out of the box” in terms of who the class could serve.

“There are a lot of students who are also getting good grades, but not achieving to their potential,” Collins said.

Collins noted that the class is a rigorous academic program, not just a curriculum, that enables students to succeed in their current work, and prepares them for advanced high school coursework and college.

The AVID class, which meets once daily, provides intensive student support, study skills, test preparation, note taking skills, organizational skills, college information, family involvement, and motivational activities.

Collins noted that two days of the week are curriculum days, two days - tutorial, and the other day focuses on motivational activities.

Cornell note taking and organizational skills, including the maintaining of a binder, are important elements of the program. Each AVID student maintains a binder to keep all of the necessary items for his or her classes, including Cornell notes, assignment logs, and a planner. The binders are graded every week.

Trained tutors, who are either college students or college graduates, work with the AVID students also. The students come to class with a question concerning an area in one of their classes, and the tutors help them through discussion to find the answer.

HLWW’s AVID program is directed by a site team that meets weekly and has completed extensive training, which began last spring and is ongoing. The site team provides training to the rest of the HLWW staff.

“AVID prepares all students to be successful in life. The elective class provides the tools that they will need whether they decide to continue their education after high school or join the workforce. Through a supportive environment within the AVID classroom, students learn organizational and study skills, work on critical thinking, receive academic support from tutors, and participate in enrichment and motivational activities. Their self-image improves, and they become academically successful role models for other students,” Collins said.

Advanced Placement classes

Helping students reach their potential and preparing them for future environments is also a part of why HLWW has decided to offer AP classes at the high school.

The AP classes offered this year include courses for juniors and seniors in biology, psychology, English, and math. The plans are to also offer a social studies AP class and human geography next year.

HLWW High School Principal Mike Day says these classes are aimed at preparing students to transition to future environments and to help them be successful in college.

Day says the classes are challenging. All of the AP classes follow AP curriculum and meet strict national AP course standards. Thus the staff involved in teaching the courses also receive training in the AP curriculum.

These courses are widely accepted at post-secondary schools throughout the United States. Students receive high school as well as college credits for the courses.

Each AP course has a classroom component and a test component, and students must pass the test to earn the college credits.

Taking these AP classes saves students time and money, Day noted.

Fast ForWord

Exciting things are happening at the elementary level as well. A new program, Fast ForWord, was implemented at Humphrey Elementary this year.

The computer based program is based on the latest brain research. The program “retrains” the brain, building new neuropath ways, Title I lead teacher Robin Day explained.

Students spend 50 minutes each school day, during their language arts block, working on various computer exercises in the program. The cognitive skills enhanced are working memory and visual symbol-sound associations from long-term memory, sustained focused attention, auditory processing, and sequencing ability (MAPS), Day noted.

Language and reading skills are also targeted. All of these skills combine to make a successful reader, Day noted.

Elementary Principal Jennifer Olson notes that certainly almost all students could benefit from the program, the program is aimed at helping students who are struggling in the various areas noted.

Currently, students in grades two through fifth grade at Humphrey Elementary are using the program, but plans are to include first graders as they are ready for the program.

Day noted that since this is the first year of the program’s implementation, it is the base year. But Day is excited about the implications of the program on student learning and achievement. Research has shown that most students who use the program will gain a one to two-year growth in a six-month time frame, Day explained.

Schools in Annandale, Mora, and International Falls are also using the program and are seeing success, Olson noted.

The program, funded through various sources including Title I grants, was implemented first at Humphrey Elementary because of technology requirements of the program. The staff hopes to expand it to Winsted Elementary.

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