Math is ‘beautiful,’ but AVID ‘changed my heart in education’

Jenna Gomer-Weyh

BHS teacher honored 

Jenna Gomer-Weyh went into teaching “because I thought that math was beautiful, and I still do.”

But the 12-year veteran of Burnsville High School’s math department had another awakening when she also began teaching AVID classes.

The Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which helps boost students into college, broadened her view of what they can become.

“Even if they’re struggling in my class but trying really hard, they can still find success in their lives,” said Gomer-Weyh, who teaches geometry and algebra II to ninth- and 10th-graders. “AVID just completely changed my heart in education.”

For her dedication to students, Gomer-Weyh received the Carpenter Teacher of the Year Award from BestPrep, a nonprofit whose business, career and financial literacy programs support teachers of AVID and other courses. She’ll be honored at a virtual luncheon in October.

Gomer-Weyh is a standout among the more than 600 Minnesota educators who use BestPrep programs, the organization said.

“Jenna is an outstanding teacher and great educator who has partnered with us in so many ways to advance her classroom and strengthen her teaching,” said Bonnie Vagasky, BestPrep vice president of educational programs.

BestPrep supplies Gomer-Weyh’s AVID classes with speakers from various professions.

“It really eliminates the blocks in an educator’s way in getting people into the classroom,” she said.

BestPrep’s eMentors program connects students with professionals in the field.

“The kids are just so surprised that these strangers email them back consistently,” Gomer-Weyh said. “That was kind of fun to see. We eventually go to their business and have a lunch, so the kids have to sit along with them and carry on a conversation with an adult, which they’re very anxious about, but it’s really cool to see them come away so confident.”

A handful of her AVID students have participated in BestPrep’s Minnesota Business Venture, a “Shark Tank”-like summer program.

“It’s just really cool to see them come out of their shell,” Gomer-Weyh said. “They literally live on a college campus for a week.”

She came to BHS in 2008, her first job after graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In 2012 Gomer-Weyh and social studies teacher Les Moffitt became the District 191 school’s first AVID teachers. The program was already in the junior highs. Today the high school has eight sections of AVID and seven instructors, Gomer-Weyh said.

The program, an elective at the high school level, is aimed at students who may not be college-ready but are capable of and willing to do the work to get there. It helps make college available to members of groups under-represented in higher education.

AVID students tend to be the first in their families to attend college, and many are from immigrant families, according to Gomer-Weyh.

“I really liked how organized the program was and how their values centered in on kids’ success beyond high school,” she said. “Because I found so many of my students just getting to graduation, and I wanted them to see beyond graduation. They just kind of stopped there. A lot of them were not aware of the opportunities that exist, the scholarships that exist, for students who do work hard and are motivated.”

The program teaches time management, collaboration and effective engagement with others, Gomer-Weyh said. Note-taking and effective study methods are stressed. Paid tutors, mostly college students, come to class twice a week and help students work through their homework problems, she said.

“If you go to a college professor and say, ‘I just don’t get it,’ that’s not going to elicit the response you want,” Gomer-Weyh said.

She estimates that 80 percent of Burnsville High’s AVID students go on to a two- or four-year college.

“I’m still in contact with a lot of my AVID students,” Gomer-Weyh said. “They’re in Australia, they’re making movies in California, they’re in medical school — it is incredible to see where these kids ended up when some of them, to be honest, were failing my geometry class. They needed an adult to walk with them and let them know that they could do it.”

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