A new mindset for first-generation college students

Higher Standards, Study Skills, and Learning Community Support

Carter McKnight, a student at Farb Middle School in San Diego, never felt that he was good at school. Like many students at the school with a diverse population from a nearby military housing community, McKnight struggled with a 1.8 GPA before a counselor convinced him to get involved with a growing program called Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID).

The program worked for McKnight just as it does for many of the students at Farb.

“This year AVID has helped me a lot. I have a 3.3 GPA now,” said McKnight. “I owe that to encouragement from my teachers and the different expectations I have because of AVID. It is supporting kids and trying to influence them to do better.”

Carter McKnight

Farb has completely transformed its school culture by taking the AVID College Readiness System school-wide. The staff participates in on-site professional development and AVID’s Summer Institute training, embraces the AVID philosophy that all students have potential to be successful, and practices AVID strategies consistently. What started at Farb as one AVID elective class seven years ago, has grown to three elective classes at each grade level.

The AVID impact begins with high expectations. Seventh grader Marshawn Humphrey agreed, “If you are an AVID student, people have higher expectations of your grades.”

AVID students are expected to take advanced courses and to monitor their GPA’s closely. They are guided to understand their subject-area strengths and weaknesses and exactly how they can improve their grades in the classes where they are struggling. That level of awareness helps students create both short-term and long-term goals on their journey to college graduation.

Organization is another key part of the program. AVID students are required to maintain a binder with a section for each class that is graded weekly. Long gone are the clumps of paper covered in pulverized-Cheetos dust that could be found at the bottom of their back packs. Papers are now neatly organized by subject in the students’ AVID binders.

Students are also taught about time management, tracking important assignments, and prioritizing deadlines. Student Kadessa Upchurch sees the difference. She notes that AVID kids are, “more prepared for life and organized. They think ahead.”

In addition to the new expectations and skills, AVID provides support through extra encouragement, tutoring, mentoring, and opportunities for collaboration. Students work together when studying notes, completing AVID tutorials, and in a number of team-building activities. In addition to being an important academic skill, learning to work with others helps students create a social-support system at school.


Farb student Cevin Carson rarely asked questions and often kept to herself before getting involved in the program. Now she feels stronger and more positive, saying, “I am more open and free. I have a lot of people who care for me.” She also told me that her AVID family helps her stay, “on point at school.” AVID students know that there are many people who believe in them, will advocate for them, and give them strength and support on their road to college.

This AVID mindset helps first-generation college students achieve their full potential by helping them define goals, pushing them to do more, and offering skills and support all along the way. AVID began with 32 students in 1980 and now impacts more than 700,000 students in more than 4,900 schools around the world.

Special thanks to Donna Rankin, Farb Middle School AVID Coordinator, and the following students at Farb Middle School for their contributions to this blog: Kadessa Upchurch, Aulani Mitchell, Monsterrat Rodriguez, Isabella Broyer, Tristan Boothby, Marshawn Humphrey, Carter McKnight, Kimberly Villegas, Gerardo Munoz, Madison Richardson, Tim-Maisza Davis, Timothy Hughes, Jasmine Llamas, and Cevin Carson.