The first year of high school can be a difficult one for students, but for freshman at Denison High School, a newly introduced tutoring program known as AVID is making things just a little bit easier.

AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a collaborative tutoring program that charges the students themselves with identifying and solving the problems that perplex them, as well as staying organized and preparing for college. The program was made available to 35 Denison freshmen earlier this academic year by application and it places them in a group tutoring sessions that run five days a week. To date, study subjects include math, biology, world geography and Spanish.

“This isn’t your typical study hall,” said Denison High School Assistant Principal and AVID Coordinator Holly Bach. “We’re holding them accountable for everything.”

Bach explained that AVID’s approach to tutoring is very much a step-by-step process. The students must begin by taking highly-structured notes for each of their courses. And when they encounter difficult topics or problems, they must identify the point of confusion and work toward the solution with guidance of fellow group members and a student tutor. Answers are not given, only found and students are expected to document everything they do.

Bach explained that the rollout of AVID last semester was a little rocky, but once students became familiar with the process and the expectations, they excelled.

“The beginning of the year was tough,” Bach said. “A lot of the kids, they didn’t see the value in it at first. But they’ve changed. They see their potential now and they’ve embraced the program, worked hard and they’ve improved tremendously.”

Starting with the basics, AVID students must stay organized. The program requires that each use a single binder for all of their courses. All papers are to be placed in tabbed dividers and the binders themselves are subject to frequent inspection by program instructors to make sure material order is maintained.

“Half the battle for high school kids is just staying organized,” Bach said. “If they have everything they need and it’s easy to access, the odds of students staying on top of their work goes way up.”

Once in their daily tutoring session, students must fill out a “Tutoring Request Form,” which outlines everything they know how to do and the point at which they become lost. The forms are submitted to the tutor, who organizes a plan of academic attack and gets the group going. Each student takes a turn at a white board where they work through the problem as much as they can. The tutor and group members give pointers and suggestions that help the student perfect the process and reach the answer on their own. Once solved, the student must reflect in writing on the problem and what they’ve learned.

Denison High School junior and AVID tutor Hannah Hittson said guiding the group requires one particular trait.

“Patience,” Hittson said. “You can’t just tell them the answer. You have to be there to the help, so they kind find the answers themselves.”

Hittson said there’s a benefit in learning from fellow students, in that it provides a difference in perspective.

“Sometimes, their teacher might explain something to them in a way they might not understand,” Hittson said. “But I can show them how I learned how to do it. I think seeing that different way helps them out a lot of the time.”

And AVID is meant to withstand the test of time. Bach explained that program lasts all four years of high school and the focus evolves as the students progress and get ready to graduate.

“The curriculum changes as the students grow,” Bach said. “By the time they get to their junior and senior year, it really is geared toward getting them prepared for the SAT, ACT, college visits, applications, essays and scholarships. If it’s essential to getting them into college, the program will cover that.”

DHS’s AVID students have already toured two colleges this year: Southeastern Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M University — Commerce.

Freshman and AVID student Jasmine Love Owen said the program has turned things around for her. She said since joining AVID her confidence has improved, she’s become more organized, and she’s even gotten a head start on college prep by taking the PSAT. Although she still has three years before graduation, Love Owen said she is looking forward to college and that she already feels a little better knowing that the AVID staff will help get her there.

“Later on, when I’m a senior I know they’ll help me figure out what college I want to go to and how to apply,” Love Owen said. “I didn’t have that type of guidance before I got in here. I’m glad I do.”