Gwen Bittner: For the Chronicle
Crystal River Middle School (CRMS) teacher Frank Laga has an infectious passion for teaching students with average test scores behaviors for academic success.
Laga found his calling in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program after hesitantly accepting an offer to lead the program at CRMS nine years ago, and he has inspired students so much that after graduation they return to the school to work alongside Laga as AVID tutors.
“Mr. Laga has taken this AVID program to another level,” school board member Thomas Kennedy said. “It’s almost AVID by Mr. Laga.”
The AVID program helps underserved students develop problem solving and organizational skills while promoting self-advocacy.
“They’re just students in the middle that are sometimes not reaching their potential,” Laga said. “They do different things and find out how talented they really are.”
Biweekly, students identify assignment areas they are having trouble with and come together in groups to clear up difficulties.
“Each student gets to bring up their point of confusion and then the AVID tutor helps them work through that so they solve their own problem,” Laga said. “It could be any topic; it’s usually math.”
Laga has found that the Socratic teaching method involved in the AVID program makes students creatively question ideas and they deeply benefit from it.
“They become much more confident,” Laga said. “They begin to believe in themselves.”
Four college-level students and former AVID students are tutors for Laga’s class. The AVID alumni give students a relatable friend and mentor to look up to. “Without them I’m doomed,” Laga said. “They build a relationship with the kids. It’s a rapport that’s the difference; you cannot just deliver material.”
“The tutors have been essential for the program,” Kennedy said.
Laga’s enthusiastic teaching methods combined with effective tutors develop students into the next generation of leaders in America. They confidently navigate problem solving and gear up to be professionals by dressing up, addressing problems, and working together.
“We prepare for college,” Laga said. “They get the support they need to be successful in rigorous classes.”
Laga will begin recruiting fifth graders in May to start AVID in next school year. Students must have an average FSA score, good attendance, and a desire to thrive.
“It’s basically a kid that’s stepping up,” Laga said. “We’ve got to have a kid that’s willing to do whatever it takes to do well. If you want it, you pass the interview, and you’ve got the test score you’re in.”
Mr. Laga works well beyond his job obligations to guide students and keep communication open as they progress as students. He remembers former students as much as they remember him.
“They’re never forgotten,” Laga said. “I’m in charge of them for everything they do and I take that seriously. They text me when they’re in high school and they’re having trouble. I tell them I’m their dad and if they don’t like that I tell them I’m their uncle. It’s to push them forward.”