Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Step Outside the Classroom

As the AVID program took hold in DoDDS-Europe in 1992-93, it quickly became apparent that leaders, called "directors" by AVID, were needed to nurture, guide, and grow the program. As more teachers and schools heard about, more wanted it, most of them right now! I let the powers-that-be know that, if a position became available, I was interested in applying for it. It did, they did, and I did! And it all fell together in a wonderful way.

Me, Dr. Sweeney, and Gloria at our DoDDS Summer Institute: "AVID: The Next Generation"

I was selected by DoDDS-Europe Director Dr. Arlyn Sweeney and her committee to join Gloria Ollhoff as the second AVID Program Monitor for Europe in 1993. I was to serve the Nuernberg District AVID programs while Gloria had the Wuerzburg District. We each had a handful of schools. Superintendent Larry Philpot insisted that I move to the district office in Nuernberg and be supported and mentored by him and his staff. I resisted this idea at first, but, when Larry explained it to me, I understood his reasons. So, for the first time in my teaching career, I was out of the classroom, out of a school, and into an office with a whole new set of colleagues, protocols, and benefits.

I remember the very first thing Larry had me do: "Write a letter for my signature on (something on AVID)." "You want me to do what?" He explained it again. I had no idea this kind of thing existed, but I did it and apparently successfully.

Gloria and I were the luckiest teachers in Europe. We were told by Dr. Sweeney and our respective superintendents to "Go forth and spread AVID." We had no limits on money or travel or freedom. We were trusted and empowered explicitly. Therefore, we worked our butts off to do a good job! We could call meetings, provide orders, visit schools, give workshops, and create materials. And we pretty much had to do those things to grow AVID. There was no sitting around, twiddling our thumbs.

I found out soon that, in order to be in this position, I "had to" go to San Diego for something like six weeks out of the year for Regional Directors training. And for this, DoDDS was paying a whopping amount (like $20,000/year for two years) to have me take this training. So, off I went for one or two weeks at a time, several times a year plus once in the summer, to learn all about AVID. And it was there that I met my great AVID teachers and future friends, Kathy Deering and Cyndy Bishop, who were the cornerstones for Mary Catherine's program at that time. We spent a lot of time together, both there and in Europe, over the following years as we learned and grew together.

So, for the next eight years, I worked solely with AVID in DoDDS, and it was the best job I ever had. Instead of trying to get kids to do what I wanted, I spent my time trying to get teachers, counselors, and admin to do AVID better. It was the best job in the world to go to all the middle and high schools and meet the teachers, tutors, and students in AVID.

Lilia Pellicano (Pacific Monitor), me, and Gloria

When Nuernberg District closed in 1994, I was asked to move to Heidelberg, where Larry Philpot was to be the new superintendent. Of course, I went, a wonderful move for my family as well. When Larry was promoted to European Director, he took me under his wing to that level. When he left, I was fortunate to have a series of wonderful supervisors such as John Davis, Martha Brown, and Diana Ohman.

Gloria and I did everything. We did training of all kinds, from tutors to staff developers We built our own cadre of trainers in AVID and produced several Summer Institutes of our own. We connected AVID with the Outdoor Ed program and had several AVID student experiences at Hinterbrand Lodge in Berchtesgaden. We had a Summer Bridge Program with the University of Maryland at their Mannheim campus. We had Site Team Conferences, Student Conferences, and made appearances to make AVID connections with all the college prep subject areas. We fought the battles with the algebra teachers (first in 9th, then 8th grade), the Honors and AP teachers, we collected and shared data (the first I'd seen in DoDDS), and logged thousands of car and air miles. One year, I performed $25,000 of travel on the job. I kept track of every travel voucher. In those days, we had "open travel orders" for the whole year or semester, to go wherever we needed to go to perform our job. Ah, those were the years. We were the first to have cellphones for our job and digital cameras (thanks to Gloria). Money was not tight then.

One time, we came up short $40,000 for our Summer Institute in Garmisch. Dr. Sweeney just picked up the phone and called downstairs, "Gene, do we have an extra $40,000 for this?" We did.

We learned. We learned we had to make connections with the "decision makers," the principals and supes. We formed important relationships with them and AVID improved. We grew from seven schools in two districts to forty schools in eight districts, from Iceland to Bahrain! We soon had over one thousand students in AVID in Europe. Things happened in those days and people got lots of training opportunities, schools got frequent visits, and ideas and energy flowed.

None of this would have happened without the support of one key person at DoDDS headquarters in Arlington, VA--Anne Muse (at left with me, Mary Catherine, and Gloria). Anne was the AVID "godmother" at HQ and the person who made sure we were included in all the training, initiatives, and budgets that we needed. She kept it alive through changes in administration that were difficult. Without Anne, AVID would have gone the way of all the other "dead" programs we have seen come and go over the last twenty years. Anne spoke directly with the AVID Center. She included Gloria and me in professional staff developers training, paid all the bills, and even helped change the way DoDDS pays tutors by working with DFAS (Finance and Accounting for the federal gov't)! She was our AVID Angel from the beginning to her retirement from DoDEA this year.


  1. I knew you were from outer space! Nice photo.

  2. Those were the good ole days, when tutor hours and number of tutors was unlimited, when there were no stupid binders to be put together, and training was plentiful. Where has it all gone? I wonder if the program will last because "THEY" keep yanking more and more things away. I'm glad you can remember so well what it was. I had not forgotten completely, but it was slipping away from me. Your blog is excellent, and I love reading it and remembering the good ole days.

  3. What a wonderful recollection, Maryellen. Thank you for writing this. I will include it in the AVID Archives, even in the electronic files! By the way, I remember the trip when the picture was taken. I arrived at Frankfurt Airport at 8:30 a.m. where you picked me up after an all night flight from Atlanta (where I had just finished 4 days of work) with no sleep. I was to address your first group at 10:00 in Wiesbaden, and there were two other presentations following that -- all different speeches to different audiences. As always, you treated me to a wonderful dinner with "the group," and I finally went to bed after 48 hours of wakefulness. I think the speeches and meetings went okay, at least everyone was polite enough not to say otherwise, but I was on "auto-pilot."

    Mary Catherine

  4. As always, I enjoy reading the recap and history from now looking back and seeing how it all came together.......enjoy those last days in Italy and in the classroom......Joan

  5. Maryellen and my fellow educators, Thank you for your very kind words, Maryellen. It was the work of you, Gloria and colleagues around the world that made my job so rewarding. Your belief in our students, high expectations for every child struggling to be a success, and unwavering support for both the students and teachers that has made the DoDEA AVID program an institution. Our role at DoDEA was to provide the infrastructure and resources you needed. AVID Center was always there to listen to our new ideas, tweak them, and then support our implementation. The toughest time of the year for our students is here. Hang in there.

  6. I am honored, Maryellen. Thank you for doing this. great reading

  7. What a wonderful thing you're doing writing your teaching always, modeling what you've taught in AVID.

    Okinawa District

  8. Your blog shows why you are considered the definitive AVID expert no matter where you are. You live it and make it real for everyone around you. I have told teachers in my school that your are "The Real Deal." Your blog will be my touchstone this year. SO, when can you come visit?

    Ruby Lee
    GA-AL District