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Kyrene School Offers College & Career Readiness for Students with Special Needs

Posted January 2022


In Kyrene School District, each Kyrene middle and K-8 school features a signature program that defines the school’s identity and culture. For Kyrene Aprende Middle School, that program is AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), which is a college and career readiness system. What is unique about AVID at Aprende, is the system’s impact on students with special needs.  


Aprende is one of the first schools in Arizona to offer AVID as an elective for students with special needs. This elective follows the same AVID curriculum which teaches students advocacy and agency skills and the level of course rigor is the same as all other sections of the elective. In addition to core class support, this section of the AVID elective supports students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan. Through the AVID system, students develop essential skills to design their own futures, such as critical thinking, collaboration, reading, writing, and relationship building. 


AVID is the foundation for teaching and learning at Aprende. Special Education students in the AVID elective apply AVID skills in all their core classes just like students in the general population. Applying AVID schoolwide ensures that all students and staff are speaking a common language in the classroom. While AVID’s goal is to prepare students for college and career success, Aprende Principal Renee Kory believes AVID is critical to preparing students with special needs for success in high school.  Being a part of this elective in middle school also means students will have the opportunity to apply for the AVID Elective in high school.


“All students deserve an opportunity to succeed in high school and beyond,” said Kory. “Providing special education students with the AVID curriculum ensures they are included and have the same skills as their peers.” 


The AVID elective for students with special needs is co-taught by two dedicated Kyrene educators, Katie Desserres and Rachel Polay. Katie is in her 15th year of teaching and Rachel is in her 5th year and also completed her student teaching at Aprende while obtaining her degree. 


“At the beginning of the year, I witnessed students walk in shy, apprehensive, and nervous,” said Polay. “Throughout the school year, we have focused on the AVID strategies to improve note-taking, study and discussion skills, and individual determination to succeed. Beyond that, Katie and I have focused on each student’s ability to self-advocate through email and in person. The growth we have seen in our students is exponential. Our students are willing to be vulnerable and offer up their own personal experiences and opinions on sensitive topics. I am honored every day to witness their individuality in academics and personality.”   


Next school year, Aprende plans to offer additional sections of the AVID elective for Special Education students. AVID was first implemented at Aprende five years ago. In year two of implementation, Aprende was recognized as an AVID Schoolwide Site of Distinction and is currently working to become validated as an AVID National Demonstration School. The AVID National Demonstration School honor means Aprende’s implementation of AVID practices is exemplary and serves as a model for other school sites and districts interested in implementing AVID.