A program designed to get students ready for college and careers is expanding in Bismarck-Mandan schools.

Bismarck High School launched Advancement Via Individual Determination last year. The elective class, better known as AVID, also started this fall at Wachter Middle School in Bismarck and Mandan Middle School.

The course is intended for students who could benefit from extra support to succeed in their desired path after high school, said Chelsey Gravseth, a science instructor who also teaches AVID at Mandan Middle School. It's meant to ensure that students do not fall through the cracks.

The AVID class pushes students to work hard while reassuring them they are capable of success.

"For a lot of them, it's the first time they have heard that," Gravseth said.

She said AVID is unique in that Mandan does not have other programs in place to support the type of student it targets.

7th graders growing already

Twenty-three seventh-graders make up the first AVID group in Mandan this year.

Their daily AVID class teaches them tools to stay organized and ask questions to aid in problem-solving. 

Before this year, seventh-grader Ashleigh Tuttle said she didn't take many notes. Now, she does so in all her classes using a format called "Cornell Notes" that she learned in AVID.

The note-taking method divides a page into sections: notes go on the right, pertinent questions belong on the left and a summary along the bottom.

Ashleigh said she now makes sure to lean forward slightly while sitting in class. It's also important to have her feet flat on the ground.

Tips like those that she learned in AVID help her focus.

"Ever since I started it, my grades have gotten so much better," she said.

Seventh-grader Zayden Gayton said he became excited about AVID when he learned his teachers had nominated him to apply. He then had to go through an interview before he was chosen for the class.

"It sounded like a lot of fun to meet new people and get help with college in later years," he said.

Zayden said he hopes his football skills land him on a team at North Dakota State University or Michigan State University. Meanwhile, he looks forward to going on college visits through AVID.

Seventh-grader Kennedy Berge said she hopes to start at Bismarck State College and transfer to the University of Minnesota Duluth.

"I want to be a vet," she said, acknowledging the profession will require expertise in science. "I like it, but I'm not very good at it."

The students in her AVID class this month began working with tutors from Mandan High School and the University of Mary. The tutors will come twice a week to facilitate sessions in small groups.

Across the river, several dozen Bismarck High School students are in their second year of AVID, and dozens at Wachter Middle School just started the program.

David Wisthoff, principal at BHS, said the goal is to provide support for AVID kids at the middle school level so that they want to take — and will be successful at — Advanced Placement or dual credit classes in high school.

"The middle school is really laying the foundation," he said.

Teachers get on board

Though new to south-central North Dakota, AVID has been around for decades. It started in California in 1980 and has since expanded to nearly all states.

Bismarck last year received a grant from petroleum refiner Tesoro to fund AVID. Bismarck and Mandan found out this month they will receive a $2 million Bush Foundation grant to expand AVID that will be shared with schools in Minnesota.

The two school districts are each paying between $40,000 to $60,000 for the program this year. Much of that cost went to fund more than a dozen local teachers who attended AVID training this summer.

Gravseth said Mandan seventh-grade teachers in math, social studies, English and other subjects took part.

They learned teaching strategies, including hosting "Socratic seminars" and "philosophical chairs" — activities that encourage students to ask questions, defend opinions and debate topics.

While Gravseth uses those in her AVID class, other teachers who went through the training may implement them as well to support her 23 students. Plus, AVID strategies could help other students who are not a part of the program.

"The idea is not just those 23 students are going to get the benefit of AVID," Gravseth said. "Eventually school-wide, students are going to benefit."

(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8267 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)