Video: Teacher pushes students to achieve

By George Lewis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/6/2006 7:33:52 PM ET 2006-01-07T00:33:52

Mary Catherine Swanson calls her program "AVID," which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.

"We need to provide for students — all students — academic rigor and appropriate support for them to do well in school," she says.

Her idea: Take students who are struggling and are often ignored, and instead of sticking them in remedial classes, give them tougher courses with plenty of help.

"In my U.S. history class," says junior Esteban Flores, "I used to have a D in that class. And with AVID and the tutors ... getting help, I have a B+ now."

It all started at Clairemont High in San Diego 25 years ago. Federal courts had ordered mandatory integration of school classrooms, which meant busing of students. Suddenly, Clairemont High School, in a white, middle-class part of town, had to take in a large number of minority students from poorer neighborhoods — many of them struggling with their studies.

Mary Catherine, an English teacher, challenged the minority students to take advanced courses.

"Are you willing to work hard and take those kinds of classes and work with me in order to be successful?” she asked. "Because if you say yes, I'll stick with you."

Since then, about 250,000 students around the country have taken AVID courses and gone on to college.

Before AVID, Silvia Garcia was told she'd probably never make it past high school.  Now she's been accepted at four colleges.

Silvia says the message here is: "Hey, you're smarter than you think you are!"

As for Swanson, she says, "It has been absolutely fun. This is the love of a lifetime."

Mary Catherine will retire later this year, as the head of the AVID Foundation, but her legacy of success goes on in classrooms in 36 states and 15 countries. 

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