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VU brings celebrated US teacher to Melbourne

 Mary Catherine Swanson
Mary Catherine Swanson, AVID creator

A visionary English teacher who has helped transform the lives of millions of disadvantaged American students will be in Melbourne this week to see how her innovative education program is expanding across Australia.

Named a former Time Magazine and CNN Best Teacher in America, Mary Catherine Swanson developed her education program in 1980. Her aim was to assist the mainly black and Hispanic students who were being bussed to her suburban San Diego school during educational desegregation in the US.

She found that most were at least two years behind, but remedial classes were not the answer. Instead, she created an innovative program that raised student expectations and teacher quality. She used targeted support and coaching, believing that if students were willing to work hard, she could teach them the skills needed to succeed at university. 

From her first class of 32 students – many of whom were not expected to even finish high school – 30 became university graduates.

More than 35 years later, Mary Catherine’s global non-profit program, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID USA), has spread from that first San Diego high school to more than 5500 schools across the US, serving 1.6 million students.

AVID was piloted in Australia through Victoria University, at a Wodonga school in 2011. Now, it is in place in 40 schools across four states, helping build educational aspiration among disadvantaged students, regardless of their postcode or background.

The Victoria Institute, an inclusive-education research institute within Victoria University, has been at the forefront of adapting the AVID program for Australian schools. The institute has conducted Australia-specific research with the assistance of a $1.4 million federal government Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) grant.

Mary Catherine will visit two AVID schools in Melton as part of her trip to Australia.

She will also deliver a keynote address on Friday 31 March at Victoria University City Flinders Campus, 'The F Bomb in Education: Do all students have the right to fail?'

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