Today we're talking about AVID Elementary with the dynamic Dina Piazza-Ramsey, program coordinator for RIMS AVID. Dina has 26 years of experience as a teacher and principal at the elementary school level.
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Kelli, Stephanie, Dina
My eldest daughter said to me at the time, you're a grown up. You can do that.
Hey, AVID family this is Stephanie Downey. And I'm Kelly Hogan flowers from RIMS AVID and you're listening to the RIMS AVID Roundtable, the podcast where we discuss all things AVID. Twice each month on this podcast, we'll get together with a special guest to talk about their AVID journey. They will tell their story and explain what makes them an AVID rock star. They will share their ideas, best practices and strategies that they've learned along the way.
And speaking of rockstars have we got a treat for you today? Today we're talking about AVID Elementary and who better to guide us through the world of AE than the dynamic Dina Piazza Ramsey, program coordinator for RIMS AVID. Dina has 26 years of experience as a teacher and principal at the elementary school level. She was selected Teacher of the Year in 2007 for her masterful implementation of AVID at her school site. RIMS AVID had always been secondary only. And when they decided to branch out to include AVID Elementary, Dina was the obvious choice to join the team and create the AE portion. We are so happy to have her on the team, and incredibly happy to have her here with us. Welcome Dina Piazza Ramsey.
Well, thank you ladies. It's so nice to be here with you.
Alright, so Dana, we want to start off with just an icebreaker question. So here's our question. Where did you go to school? And what do you have in common with your college mascot?
I went to several schools, including I started at Mount St. Mary's and then I returned home to the high desert where I went to Victor Valley College for a while and then transferred to Cal State San Bernardino where I completed the rest of my education, the rest of my undergraduate and graduate work and credentialing, both for teaching and administration and the mascot at Cal State is a coyote. So I would say what I have in common with the coyote is we are both desert people. We are comfortable in the desert. We love the desert.
There you go. HD in the house.
All right. So tell us about your history with AVID share how it started and how it's going.
It's a little bit of a long story. So I will tell you exactly how it started. I was a teacher up in the high desert, we had a lot of movement up there. They say that we have affordable housing in the high desert, I was born and raised there so it's where I am comfortable like the coyote. Um, and I was teaching there. And we were starting to have a lot of behavior problems at school. And it was happening more often and more often. And I don't know in the secondary world, but in the elementary world when there are behavior problems, the Proctor's the noon duty, supervisors love to catch you, as you're walking back to your classroom, let you know all of the issues that have been happening. And as I was one day walking back to my classroom, from lunch, and I noticed all of my colleagues that were out on the ramps, talking with their students who had been apparently in trouble during lunchtime. At the time, also, my own children went to school where I taught. And it struck me that day that we had so many teachers out on the ramp, not engaging instruction with the students and how unfortunate for the students in the class, the other 32 students in class that were not getting their instructional minutes that they should have, including my own children. And how unfortunate for the students that were, it appeared to be the same students every day on the ramp, right? So it's like, there's something is not working. So why are we continuing to do this? So I went to my principal at the time and said, I feel like we need to do something differently. And what I think we should do, what I would like to offer to do is take a behavior class. So take all of the students who are struggling out on these ramps from the upper grades, and what if I take all of them next year and do character building, they're making the same choices over and over so how can we help them to make different choices? So we talked about it and she's like, okay, and I always joke because I say at the time I negotiated and said so if I do this character building then I won't be held to state testing scores that that will be off the off the plate, because we'll be working on character building. Little did I know what I was negotiating was not the best. But she said yeah, I I think that might be able to work write up a proposal, we'll take it to cabinet. So I wrote up a proposal took it to cabinet. At that time, again, my children were young, I only had experience in elementary education. So I didn't know of AVID, but when I, when I presented it to our cabinet, Marie Miller, who was one of our assistant superintendents, and is no longer with us but an amazing woman had said to me, have you heard of AVID? And I'm like, No, I haven't. And she's like, I think that might be a good fit for this. So I went home and looked up AVID to see what it was, and saw all the stuff about the covey Seven Habits for Highly Effective Teams, and all of that, and like, oh, my gosh, I do think this would be a great fit. So I looked it up. And I looked everything up online. And I found that there was this summer institute. Again, I didn't know I'm not a secondary person. So when you go to conferences, you register and you go to the conference. Well, I couldn't register. And I couldn't figure out why. But I had to go to this because I had to have an umbrella under which to operate with the students, I had to have some kind of program to help them. So unknowingly, I went to Summer Institute in San Diego, it was at the town and country at the time, not knowing that you don't just show up there. A you don't just show up there and you don't show up as a singleton, you come as a team. So I showed up to register and there like nope. And at that time, that was the first year Elementary was even a thing. So it was unfamiliar to many of the people that I was talking to. So they had me step aside and wait. And I'm like, I really have to get in, I have to have this training. I have to have this I have to be something in order to help my students. So they went and got Shannon McAndrews, who had started AVID elementary with AVID Center. She came she was delightful, so nice and so cheery. And that was my first introduction to AVID and staff developers of oh, she was so cheery and nice and so much personality and energy. And I was like, ah, that's great. I felt right at home. And she's like, Yeah, you don't just come here, you come with a team. So I was like, Okay, well, I don't know what to do and I have to have this training, because I'm taking on this class of students, and we have to have character development. This was recommended by my assistant superintendent, I didn't know what else to do. She now in retrospect, now I know. So at the top at Town and Country when you go right in the entry before the Grand Ballroom, and there's the upper level. And there was this very tall man up on the upper level, and she was trying to flag him down. Now I know, it was Rob Jura and she, they went and had this little conversation on the side and what to do blah, blah, blah. And they let me in. Thank you so much. I'm so appreciative for letting me in. But it had to be this conversation. And then I went in to then my, at the time strands. And it was at the time it was called AVID Student Success Path for Elementary, upper elementary. So I went into that, again, I know nothing about everything else going on around me, I have no idea this is brand new and hadn't been thought of so, I go into this. And it was awesome. And I well, it was partially awesome. I went in it was a very small group, there were probably 12 of us in there at collaborative tables. And this is the other thing I often joke about with other teachers and administrators because now knowing what AVID is for secondary had I known about that I would have been an ideal AVID elective student because I really needed those extra scaffolds, because organization is not my thing. Well, I had read online about all of this character development and Covey and seven habits and all these great things and student success. Well, day one in the AVID elementary training was all about organization. Those of you that know me know that that's not my forte. Organization is not, does not come naturally to me, I really have to work at it. Um, so the very first day, and at that time Summer Institute was five days. So I was there for five days. And as we all know, very full days. So after the very first day I had gone down with I had taken my sister to watch my daughter's and my two daughters. And they were like eight and 10 at the time. And I remember going back to the hotel, and I was like, I don't think we're going to stay because I was like in this thing about organization. I'm like, This is not me. I can't teach this to kids this way. I don't know how to do this. And it my eldest daughter said to me at the time, you're a grown up. You can do that. And I like okay. I knew very well I mean, we were in San Diego for five days, they did not want to go home. So I totally get it. But I did I stuck it out. So I did persevere. I did have an AVID attitude, yes. about staying and sticking it out. It was very, I did have to be comfortable in the discomfort because learning about organizing time, material and thoughts was not in my head. It was not something that I it's not something I do naturally it wasn't at the time. But as they were teaching us about teaching students not to have learned helplessness, I was like, okay, then I need to not have learned helplessness. So it really was kind of a full circle moment. And I stayed for the five days. And I learned a ton. And I then went back every year. That year, then was my first full year implementing for sixth grade only. It was a very trying year, because academics was not our focus. And in fact, it was I remember, like, literally crying in my principal's office, like, it's January, we still haven't gotten to any academics because I really thought Oh, we'll get to it much earlier, but we hadn't. But the the behavior was coming along. They were, they, those boys pushed me, they pushed me every day. I was like, Oh, they tested me. And it had been my commitment that, and I would guess that you see this in secondary as well. When they have behavior problems, they want to go to the office, right? So that's they're out. And then this is how they have learned to escape social issues, escape academic issues, escape anything. So I had vowed that they were not going up to the principal that year that we were going to take care of all business in the classroom. And Mike and I had worked with my principal to do that. But in order to do that, it it really wore me down. They were just a great group of kids. I, I will say that none of them went on to college. But all of them graduated from high school. And truly, I believe that that was a huge success, because they would have been just prime for dropping out. We worked on a lot of character development, we worked on a lot of learning to talk with each other to listen to each other. All of those things that in secondary, you do for philosophical chairs, Socratic seminar. So learning to we just did communication circles. So we didn't quite get to the academic depth of a Socratic seminar. But what we learned was how do we listen to each other and different point of views? How do we enter into a discussion in a polite and non confrontational manner, which was very difficult for them?
Well, those were life skills that super huge,
Huge life skills, huge life skills. So that's how I started. Then the next year, I took on then fourth, fifth and sixth grade. So we did a four or five, six combo of the students that needed some character development. It did make a huge difference, it made a difference for them, they had a place to be they had a place to belong. Um, after that, then I went on to administration. So when I went from the school where I taught to the school where I was an administrator, I had the passion for AVID, but not everybody does, right. So in our district, they we we all had to have a school of choice. So every school had to have some focus so that parents from anywhere in the district could choose to come there. And with my staff, then it took a little bit because we had to have discussions, it had to be an open decision for everybody. And there were many different things. I mean, they could have chosen music, they could have chosen theater, art, stem, all kinds of different things that were happening at the time. But the but we went with AVID, so then I took it to a K-6 model at the school where I was an administrator. And then I came here, I had been implementing there about almost six years when I left as an administrator and then came here to start it through the four counties. And it was easy to bring it to the four counties. So part of my charge was to bring AVID elementary schools on two RIMS. It wasn't easy. I don't even almost want to call it a job because it's like I got to go out there and tell people about this wonderful system for elementary because in elementary it's a system and how these systems can help students and what we noticed from my classes and at my school where I was a principal was that the students felt like they belonged like they did when I had the AVID class. So attendance came up, they were there. They were coming more often. Our EL students grew. So at the time, CELT and their CELT scores were improving, and we were reclassifying. But we weren't even looking at the reclass, we were literally looking at, are they moving and growing, and that was huge I thought. Our chronic absenteeism went down, and our suspensions and expulsions because the the goal is not for a suspension or expulsion, the goal is, how can we do this differently so that we can learn to make different choices. So with that being the focus of the whole school, and then the parents knowing that as well, then we all work together for the best interest of the students. So those were the things that we noticed improved. So getting to share that with four different counties and elementary schools that had some interest in that, was, I always say, when I go and do a what is AVID elementary presentation, like, it doesn't matter to me, if you come on contract or not, right? This logo that I wear every day, is because I believe in it. And I believe in what it does for students and their lives. So it's not a sales pitch. I'm just here to tell you how this can help your students and their families. And that's my that is my passion. So that's how I got to here today. I think I went a little extra. Too much cream on the tacos.
No, I love it. And I just think about how many how many lives have been changed, because you acted like a grown up, and they stuck it out.
Yes, that's true Kelli.
Because you did go back. And I love the way you talked about Shannon being so cheery. And so, you know, dynamic and outgoing. Because, you know, I've shared with you that that was my impression of you the first time I saw you because you were just so energetic, and you had all this energy. And I thought, Who is this lady? I need to be where she is. So I love that you see that in someone else without knowing that that really that's that's how we see you.
Thank you. That's very nice.
So tell us about you talked about when you when you came to RIMS AVID, tell us about your current AVID work, what is what is the life of a program coordinator look like?
So the current AVID work we have now, it hasn't changed, but it's changed. And I would guess that everybody can identify with that. Because in the classroom as an administrator, it hasn't changed, but it's changed. So part of what our AVID elementary team as a team, because in AVID Elementary, it's not a program it’s systems. So for AVID Elementary, when you come on contract as an elementary site, you are now automatically all y'all are doing AVID Elementary, there is no well, this person is doing it and this person is doing it. But these teachers are not it's it's all for one, it's one bound one sound, right? So once you're on contract, and you take your team now knowing Summer Institute, everybody, there should be a grade level representative from each grade level that's implementing, and they bring it back. So during collaboration, time, PLC time, whatever it's called in the district, those lead teachers then take the systems that have been agreed upon at Summer Institute for for goal setting, and say, okay, here are some of the things we're going to do to teach our students how to organize their time how to organize their materials, how to organize their thoughts, and three column notes, here are the things that we've committed to, well, when you have grade levels, then everybody kind of has to be on board. And that's sometimes not the case. So our AVID elementary team is tasked with supporting the schools to help everybody to see the value in the systems for the students. And that it can look, Stephanie's room can look a little different in the way that you execute it. And Kelly's room can look a little different and my room can look a little different. But all of this the 30, 60, 90 students in our classrooms are all being exposed to how do I take notes in three column format? How do I study from those notes? How do I add to them? What do I do with them? Right? So that there's not any group of 30 some students that has not been exposed to what do I do with this? So our task was on campus than virtual now back on campus? How do we support everybody to see that value? Does that make sense? And sometimes it's, it's hard because when leadership changes when grade levels change, when you know oftentimes in elementary school, it you have, you know, people are taking off time for different reasons. And so when any one piece of that changes, and you have a new person in that might not understand the value or the why in AVID Elementary, then it's our job to help them understand it's our job to help the principals understand. It's that's a huge difference with elementary because in the secondary world, the coordinator leads it and you know, works with the principal, but in elementary it is the principal who has to lead it. So we always say in the elementary world, the principal is the coordinator. So, but the administrators are overwhelmed with many different hats. And I always tell administrators, I don't know there might be somebody with as much AVID passion as me. So I'm not saying I'm the only one with AVID passion, but I have a great passion for AVID Elementary. And as an administrator, it was not the top priority on my list, because as an administrator, you have so many different hats that you have to wear, that even I struggled with keeping it at the forefront, right? So I understand that struggle of having the passion wanting to do the best for your students and still juggling everything else that goes along with being an administrator. So that's our task is how do we help them? How do we support them? How do we keep everybody on board so that the students can make the progress they need? So that when we pass them off to the middle school teachers, they have some skills, our hope is that with the work that we're doing is an AVID team, those students in the elementary school that if there were two thirds of the students from a school that needed AVID support, that maybe we could dwindle it down to 1/3. So that when they come to your AVID elective classrooms, because we know you have limited seats, right, so there are only so many seats. So how many skills can we teach our students so that they can maybe not need all of the scaffolded support? And then when they're moving like you all are moving to doing the school wide like we do. So we know that they're going to get it in their content classes, we know that they're going to get continued support of how do we write? How do we do school? Does that make sense? Okay, I don't know if I answered that.
No, you did. And I think it's great to when you see a elementary school that has AVID and you just walking through all those classrooms are so many structures in place and systems in place where you can see that vein of AVID kind of running through with all the kids, even if they're working on different stuff, like they know what's expected of them. They have their stuff organized, and they see the benefit. And I think it's just it's so fun to see the kids doing those things. It's such a small age, and they're so little, we're taking their little notes.
Yes, it's one of our favorite things when we do a wicker walk because it's, it's kind of funny, like on this side of it, because teachers, it's like when you pick the student that they wouldn't necessarily highlight for you to talk to about what but we do I mean, it is it's a knack as a as a RIMS, AVID team member, and the sheer joy, I can't tell you how many times I've had goose bumps when you because that is the student we want to talk to. Typically the teacher is going to send us the student who and we we joke about this in our workshops, right? There are many students in your class that could have a substitute teacher every day. And they're still going to succeed because they do have an innate innate sense of organization how to do school. So we want to know for the students that don't have that naturally, are we reaching them is our is our instruction explicit and specific enough to help them and when you can talk to that student, when they have a binder that is a hot mess, and has two or three tabs that are hanging out nothing in between them they don't have a pencil pouch, they can't find their agenda planner, right. But when you talk to them and say, can you tell me about this, and you point to their AVID binder, and they can tell you well, this is what it's supposed to be right? And then they have that the the pouch of death in the front. And it's full of everything. And they can tell you when you say oh, what is all of this. And they can tell you? Well, it's supposed to be in my math section in my language, Second Language Arts section. They're struggling, they don't have it done, but they have been taught this skill, so there is some muscle memory for them that when they move on to the middle school that they will be able to say, oh, I remember, I am supposed to have this organized. So even for those of us that struggle, even at the lower grades, it does threaten and embed, hopefully, up to secondary. So
I think that moves well into this next question about just telling us about AVID through your lens. Okay, right, what should and what does AVID look like as an elementary school principal.
So, ideally, as the elementary school principal, you would have time to get out and walk the room to, which is so hard, to support the teachers and to see see what's going on? One of the things that, that you know, and we always say our elementary team, we always say we are the biggest offenders of the things we're telling you like to steer clear of or not do it's because we did it. So that's another benefit, I think of the RIMS AVID team altogether, is that every one of us has done this and seen the benefit for students. So we come with the experience of we've fallen in a few potholes and right, okay, so seeing the if what we don't, what we don't monitor sometimes does not get done, right. So if there is some consistent monitoring and some consistent expectations as an elementary principal of, okay, we will have three column notes in at least one subject area, right, we will have some tool that our students from TK up to five, six, some of our TK eights have, so whether it's a two pocket folder, or a three ring binder, we will have some system for them to learn how to organize their time, right? Sometimes, my advice to administrators would be, A don't forget to include your parents, because the parents need to be updated before you start while you start while you're doing it. And they want to learn along with the students. So they are as eager to learn these systems, because they don't know how to teach it to their students to their own children. So keep them informed, letting them know that there is individuality in all of this right? That we are going to provide the tools that they need. That's a huge part of providing those tools. So that students that might not be able to get those tools, everybody has it. And it's a it's a the playing field is provided for all. And then making sure to support the teachers. So we're all going to do this, we're all going to monitor it. And one of the things that we say is, with your PBIS systems of being safe, respectful and responsible, which many of our districts are PBIS schools, then this is the same. So this this part of being individually determined to do school is about being responsible. It is about being respectful and knowing how to be safe. With PBIS. Those students are learning. Okay, if I made a choice today, and it wasn't the best choice, if I'm confronted with that same scenario tomorrow, how do I make a different choice? That's no different than what we teach in AVID, right? So if we, if we ask often on our wicker walks, if you came to school today, without your agenda, or your three ring binder, or your two pocket folder, would that be a problem? If it's not a problem to the student, then we haven't made that tool, we haven't taught them how meaningful that tool should be to them. If it is a problem, and we keep forgetting it, for the plethora of reasons that our students have so much chaos at home, right? I know, I know, I'm all over the place, Stephanie's Oh, I'm sorry, but I'm gonna and because these students are having to learn those skills of how to do school and how to do life on their own, many of them many of our students in the Inland Empire. So it is incumbent upon us as educators to give them some tools. So that at six, right, so I can tell you from our own experiences at my own school, where I taught and where I was an administrator, we have, you know, a 6,7,8 year old getting their other siblings to school in the morning, right? So they, they are already having to be responsible, how can we teach them some tools and systems that they can use at home and at school to keep everything organized, they have, they're having to learn it anyway, it's not going to pass them by. So by getting all of that in place for them, then once they arrive to our school, then they are ready to learn they do have a safe space to be in for the next six hours, right? And they know how to navigate through this. Another thing that we expect to see an AVID Elementary is that the systems they can be executed differently you might execute differently than I do when we're when we're doing three column note taking right and Kelly might be doing it in Spanish right? So it however everybody does it. But they're all getting exposed to the same systems. And every year it's this it's very similar for them. So when our students are learning how to organize their thoughts in a three column format, and how to identify topic detail connection. In your classroom, you might do it in three column format. But if it were my classroom and I love to use the smelly markers and draw pictures and do all of that right, then those students have to access my information in a different way than in your classroom. And then if they go to Kelly's class the next year right so if they had you for First grade me for second grade and Kelly for third grade. And Kelly does it in a graphic organizer fashion different graphic organizers every time, then, each year, the students have to learn a different way to access information in the classroom. So for typical students like me who struggled to learn every year, now I have to learn my teachers way of organizing thoughts. That's an extra two months at least of learning time for me, by the time I figured that system out, right, if I'm a second language learner, that's right, I don't need to tell you, Kelly, that adds another month at least. So now I'm trying to learn another language, and another system of my teacher. So one of the benefits of AVID elementary systems of this is how you organize your materials and here's how we organize our thoughts. And it might look different in your classroom, the way that you have transparent conversations when you're taking notes with your students than it does when Kelly does or when I do, but they no topic detail connection and a three column note, if I can't read, I can still access a visual image, I could still access in that connections column, my primary language, maybe write something that's going to help me connect as a learner. And I don't have to relearn something every year. So as an administrator looking for that to thread and embed throughout the campus, the way that you would want it to threaten embed throughout the district, right, from our elementaries to our your old district is a perfect model of that, from elementary to middle school to, to the High School of these are all expected systems for our students. It doesn't matter if they change schools, even during the year, let alone teachers, that their that comfort level of coming in and thinking, Oh, this is familiar to me. I can I can do school hear oh, yes, I have a binder or two pocket folder. Oh, yes, I know what Note taking is like that, in itself. Talk about building student agency. I mean, that brings in the student agency of yeah, like I can do this. And I don't have to be afraid and I don't have to not come to school. And you know what I mean, I don't have to misbehave. So as an administrator, you want to see that threaded and embedded, you want to see it mixed in with all of your PBIS systems, because it's not another thing. We threaded embed all of those together, we don't, we don't need to do separate things for AVID separate thing for PBIS. And separate things for district initiatives. That's another administrator tip. You'll drive yourself crazy trying to make all of those different meetings if you have a PBIS team and a leadership team and an AVID team, when all of them should be working together. So make your site leadership team, people that have a couple people with AVID passion, a couple people with behavior, passion, a couple people with district passion, so that legitimately everything is threaded and embedded with all of our initiatives for the students.
It's a great response. And I love the idea of it taking away those really unnecessary burdens from the students of having to take that extra time to relearn or to learn a new system to learn a new concept. And just from a secondary lens, it's the same as when a kids in the English class, there's a set of rules, or a set of you know, ideals, and this is how we do things in English, then they go to second period. And this is how we take notes, or this is how we do things. And you know, in our history class, that's okay. Yeah. Is that that is the same concept. So that was a that's a good connection. Yes. For me, right there. So Dina, this is the segment of the podcast, that we like to call this one thing. So give our listeners your very best piece of advice. So to be successful in AVID, you need to do this one thing. So what's what's your one thing?
What I think I would say that one thing is, is stay student focused. Because so often, we have to help the teachers because sometimes it is like it was for me uncomfortable to learn things. And what we often come back to is if if reflect back on your own skills and what you're doing, so is it because it's more comfortable for you? Are it's what you're used to? Or is that truly what's best for students? So if we could just the one thing would be it. Are we basing all of our decisions off of what's best for students? That would be my one thing.
That's a great one thing.
So greatest AVID success stories. So what is your greatest AVID success story?
My greatest AVID success story would probably be a two parter my my boys and girls for my first AVID class, so I still keep up with some of them. Some of them are really struggling. So we have had some time in jail and some time out of jail. But we keep coming back at it. And I know that that is true of you all in secondary to it's like these, these are life long commitments we have to these kids. So I would say the first part of that is that those students all graduated, and I was really proud of them. I a kind of a success story, I would say is my very first principle, when I first started teaching, I was hired as it was when we had class size reduction in elementary. So I was hired as a sub long term sub to bring down the numbers for class size reduction. So we were two teachers in one kindergarten classroom of 40. That principle, saw something in me and hired me he is, shout out to Ross Swearengen, he is the superintendent in Helendale now, and he is he got me started in my educational experiences. And then a couple years ago, before all of this, Helendale came on with their elementary school, and he was in one of them in the strand that I was teaching as a staff developer for AVID center. So I think my greatest success is that full circle moment with the person that was so influential to me, and then getting to be on the other end of that with him.
That's awesome. I love that.
That's great. Thanks, Dina. Thank you, lady. All right.
That's it for this episode of RIMS AVID Roundtable. I'm Stephanie. And I'm Kelly. If you have questions, feedback, on today's episode or an idea for a future show, please tweet us @rimsavid or email email@example.com we'd love to hear from you. And be sure to check out our website rimsavid.org for all the latest news and events.
And thanks again to our fantastic guest. Dina Piazza Ramsey, thank you for being with us today. And thank you all for listening. Don't forget to follow us on your favorite podcast app so you don't miss our next episode. Join us again next time. For more RIMS AVID roundtable, we’ll save your seat.