CALDWELL — Jon Zubizarreta’s classroom is decorated, but not with periodic table charts and motivational phrases — his walls are covered with college flags.

Zubizarreta is the one and only teacher for the AVID program at Vallivue High School, otherwise known as “Advancement Via Individual Determination.” This is the third year the program has been in place at the high school and Sage Valley Middle School. This year, it has also expanded to the fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.

AVID is a national college readiness program with a stated goal of closing the achievement gap in America. The nonprofit organization focuses on training educators to use research-based strategies and curriculum to elementary, secondary and higher education classrooms. That includes academic success, support, a positive peer group, and “a sense of hope for personal achievement gained through hard work and determination.”

Zubizarreta is the boisterous voice of that message through seven sections of the elective each day with freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. He introduced several of his successful seniors to new freshmen on Wednesday and emphasized their hard work.

One of those was Maria Villagomez, who said English was not her first language when she started in school, but she worked her way up to taking Advanced Placement English the past two years. Students who elect to take AVID are required to take one AP course per year, said Vallivue Assistant Superintendent Gary Johnston.

Villagomez told the new AVID students that the class has helped her with organizational skills and time management, and though AP English was tough, she encourages others to take the challenge, as well.

“I’ve heard people say ‘AP classes are for smart people,’ and I say, ‘No they’re not, they’re for people who want to work hard.’”

Molli Thompson is another senior who spoke to the freshmen. She said she was on the brink of failing her classes before AVID and had given up on school, thinking it didn’t matter. Thompson also said she had to work through a stutter and a fear of public speaking. Zubizarreta helped turn her grades and confidence around to the point where she started her own studying group and gave a beginning of the year speech to 800 faculty and staff within Vallivue School District. She said the atmosphere of the AVID class was one of her favorite parts.

“There was this lovely sense of family,” Thompson said.

Johnston said the program is well loved by teachers and students alike so far, and the district made the decision to extend it to the elementary level as part of the curriculum for fourth- and fifth-graders.

“I think that college and career readiness really begins in elementary,” Johnston said. “We really want to increase the number of our students going on to post-secondary education, whether that’s a four-year program or technical school.”

That doesn’t mean fourth-grade students are choosing their dream schools and filling out FAFSA applications, however. Instead, children at Central Canyon Elementary spent Wednesday organizing their binders with math, English and geography sections, planning out their calendars and learning how to ask questions.

“It encourages students not only to be brave enough to ask questions, but also to come up with their own,” said Erin Bassham, who is beginning her first year at Central Canyon. “The kids are really pumped about it.”

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