“This one goes to cosmetology school at Metro Tech and she wants to get a business degree and own several of her own salons.”
“This one is being scouted by Loyola Marymount for softball. She’s been playing since she was a kid.”
Anna Ruiz, points at each square admiring the family quilt of her AVID seniors, each square represents an AVID senior’s unique high school experience and vision for the future. “They start referring to themselves as family,” Ruiz said.
Advancement Via Individual Determination or AVID is a national program implemented at North High School that focuses on high school success and college readiness for students that are traditionally underrepresented. These are students who are in the middle of the academic population, with 2.0 to 3.5 GPA, are willing to work hard and have a desire to attend college. Students in AVID are often the first in their family to attend college or come from low-income families. The student will commit to a year-long elective class where they follow a writing and reading curriculum that is centered on college preparation.
Ruiz is the AVID coordinator at North High and she teaches U.S. History and Advanced Placement U.S. History. She never saw herself as a teacher originally, Ruiz served for 20 years in the US Army before she retired and began teaching.
Her time in the military changed her perspective on life, Ruiz said. She uses her world experiences from the military to tell stories. For example, when she teaches about the Cold War she uses her own photos from when she went to the Berlin Wall.
Ruiz said she never uses a book to teach out of and she tries to be very culturally aware in her classroom. “Even though its mostly Latino kids, they need to know that their history is more than low riders and Chavez. Black kids knew to know that their history is more than Dr. King and so on,” Ruiz said.
“Is history important? It is important, but I see my role more important to teach them how to be good human beings and how to navigate this world,” Ruiz said.
Ten years ago, Ruiz had no clue what AVID was and now North High School is an AVID National Demonstration school. There are nine AVID National Demonstration schools in Arizona, including North High. Ruiz said the school had to go through a certification process to show that the school was an excelling model of the AVID program. North High will go through the process again in a few years to ensure they are still implementing the program with success. Ruiz said the program has completely changed the way that she teaches.
The program at North High School has grown from two classes to 11 classes and 100 percent of the AVID seniors have graduated high school.
North High School Assistant Principal for Instruction, Makayla Jackson said about Ruiz and her AVID students, “She is tough on them, but she does have a soft spot for them.”
“I was a knucklehead in high school, I really was,” said Ruiz. She tells her students of her struggles in high school not to brag but to help them for their future. Ruiz said, she is a realist with her students, she wants them to know it won’t be an easy “candy land” when high school ends.
“So, when I see one of them slacking off or whatever, I get on their asses because I don’t want them to be like me, I don’t want any of them to be like me. I want them to be better,” Ruiz said.
When people ask Ruiz if she has kids of her own, Ruiz said, she has 150 kids every year. Her students tell her don’t regret not having kids of your own because they said to her, “You’re like a mom to us, you talk like a mom to us, you kick our ass like my mom does.”
North High School Athletic Director, Ray Pino said, “She treats the kids fairly, she holds them accountable, which is good. She cares about them.”
Ruiz is always willing to help her AVID students, said Cynthia Gonzales, an AVID senior she said if she didn’t have AVID she wouldn’t be worried about schoolwork and pushing to be better. Genesis De Loera, an AVID senior, said Ruiz has prepared and is continuing to prepare them for college by motivating and guiding them.
De Loera and Ruiz sport homemade bead bracelets that are worn by all the AVID seniors. The bracelets are made at the beginning of the year when the students make three goals they want to accomplish in the next year. At the end of the year, they cut them off, attach them all together and reflect. De Loera’s bracelet beads spell out, “Stay Positive” and Ruiz’ bracelet spells out, “I love my AVID Seniors.”
De Loera and Ruiz laughed and said, that every day they have bracelet check and whoever forgets to wear it, must do something ridiculous like sing the “Chicken Dance” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
“I would like to be remembered for helping kids achieve their dreams, no matter how small or large that part was. That I gave back to my community, that I gave to my country, that I helped at least one kid fulfill their dreams,” Ruiz said.