From 1997 to 2000 Jonathan Freedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, volunteered his time to teach writing in various high school classrooms in the San Diego Unified School District. In his words, "The high schools where I taught were not Disneylands. The dilapidated buildings, armored with steel gates, were guarded by police. Classes were held in scabrous 'portable' classrooms, where poor working conditions lowered teacher morale. . . Kids were so anxious about their security - emotional, social, sexual - that they could not focus on classroom learning. . . Yet two classrooms I visited seemed altogether different: student morale was high, teachers were dynamic, study was rigorous, learning was exciting. . . On the wall of Mr. Visconti's classroom at Crawford High School, students had painted an arresting mural. At the top, in foot-high letters, a brash, graffiti-style sign proclaimed: WALL OF FAME. Beneath it, stenciled in gritty black letters, ran a long list of students, followed by the dates of their graduation, and the universities they were attending."
Freedman learned that the classes were AVID classes, a program created by Mary Catherine Swanson in 1980 at Clairemont High School in San Diego. In 1998 he approached Mary Catherine about writing a book chronicling the founding of AVID. Freedman, a Pultizer Prize winning author, presented Mary with his award winning series, "Hard Hope," stories of families immigrating to the San Diego area. Since AVID was celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2000, Mary Catherine thought a book would be an appropriate gift for AVID teachers to commemorate AVID's journey. Mary Catherine obtained money from the Charles A. Dana Foundation in New York City (she had won the Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Education in 1991) for Freedman to write the book and San Diego State University, through the auspices of its president Stephen Weber, chose to publish the book. Freedman interviewed Mary Catherine each week for 3-4 hours in 1998, and the book went into publication in 1999. Freedman was also able to personally interview most of the original AVID students and staff from Clairemont High School.
Freedman traces AVID to its humble roots in a San Diego high school classroom where affirmative action was replaced with "affirmative preparation." Instead of the classic interpretation of a "feel good" school reform program, in AVID classrooms, rigor meets support, home finds school - and each student's past is integrated into a promising future.
According to reviewer Statom, "Only her students' 20-year sagas of success outshine Swanson's triumphant odyssey. Indeed Freedman fills Wall of Fame full of real life heroes. From teachers and tutors to students and supporters, unforgettable characters grace his pages, and grow, with resilience and the ability to absorb what they need to survive and thrive in college - thanks to AVID.
"AVID's solid success transcends education fads and ideology. AVID's emphasis on personal responsibility will appeal to the compassionate conservatives who demand that today's students demonstrate character and commitment. Its results will recharge classroom teachers of all stripes who are hungry for inspiration. It will move business and civic leaders seeking a grounded approach that works within the financial and human resource constraints of real schools. And it will excite concerned parents and citizens, fed up with the lack of prospects for their children in our public schools.
"What's more, Freedman uncovered a working model that neither depends on the charismatic teacher, nor a hothouse ivory tower. Instead, he reveals the brainchild of a creative, dedicated teacher, with a deep faith in her students and colleagues, who doesn't disown the system, but dares it to teach students and faculty to excel by learning to work its levers. Freedman depicts how AVID frees students to tap deep into their souls, and trains them to succeed beyond their wildest dreams."
"Share the poignant triumphs of students whose lives were transfored by a dedicated teacher who saw the light in them when others saw only darkness."
Freda Statom – Original AVID student, University of California Berkeley
"This is a book for any parent or teacher who ever wondered why their obviously bright kids were not fulfilling their potential. It tells how AVID is saving children and their schools."
Jay Mathews – Washington Post, Education Columnist
"A wonderful book about a true American heroine, Mary Catherine Swanson, who developed the AVID program that literally changes the life outcomes of thousands of students whom society would have consigned to its scrap heap."
Gene I Maeroff – Director, Hechinger Institute on Education & the Media, Columbia University