At a young age, Jose Scott learned an important lesson from his mother, Holli: If you are alive, you are able to make a difference. Holli, a home health care provider who dreamed of opening a center for developmentally disabled children, left family behind in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2001 to pursue new opportunities for her four children. She nudged them into volunteering, especially at church. No task was too big or small. If chairs needed to be moved, the Scott kids moved them.

Now a senior at Fort Vancouver High School, Scott learned the lesson well. “That little seed that was planted in me and all my siblings flourished as we grew up,” he said.

Scott first heard of a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination at Gaiser Middle School. Then new to the district, the national college-readiness program married academic rigor with strong academic and social support, especially for underrepresented students.

“A lot of us were really skeptical, like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to college,’ like seventh-graders do,” Scott recalled of his initial reaction. He persisted with the program through middle school, but toyed with the idea of quitting during his freshman year. His grades were on the decline.

And yet Holli Scott’s son wasn’t one to disengage. His sophomore year, he and a small group of friends formed the Anti-bullying Club. Scott led the club in creating a subtle yet sophisticated campaign that included videos and posters. “It was important for our peers to see us, people that they knew and interacted with on a daily basis, telling them the information rather than someone else saying, ‘Bullying is bad,’” Scott said.

He added, “We figured if we couldn’t stop bullying completely, we could tell people the harmful effects of bullying, because that’s almost as important as telling them not to bully.”

The message might have fallen on deaf ears if not for Scott’s influence. “People gravitate to him,” said Marie Monek, a career counseling specialist at Fort. “He gives back to the school because of who he is. Not because he’s the most popular, but because he’s a great leader.”

But his leadership was tested the summer before his junior year. His mother unexpectedly passed away on June 23, 2012. She was only 44 years old.

It could have been Scott’s breaking point.

Instead, it was the start of his renaissance.

“If she could sacrifice her whole family and everything she had down in Oklahoma for us, why couldn’t I do something equally amazing—if not more?” he reasoned.

Fort’s AVID culture braced his spirits. “The sense of family you get in AVID is by far the best part of the whole program,” said Scott. He also took more AP classes, as required by the program, and earned a spot on the school’s Honor Roll.

With AVID friends, Scott formed the Students of Color Association his junior year. The goal was to share scholarship opportunities and events with other minority students and to root the club in community service, also a tenet of the AVID framework.

The club created 25 toiletry kits for homeless Fort students and donated them to the school’s Family-Community Resource Center. “He brought in so many kids from so many different ethnic backgrounds and had them involved in projects to better our school community. He was so organized and passionate about the cause. I thought, that’s what good leadership can do,” said Fort English language arts/AVID teacher Bethany Rivard.

In December, Scott, some of his AVID classmates, and other Fort students participated in an on-site admissions process through Washington State University and WSU Vancouver. Admissions officers from both campuses visited Fort and accepted eligible students, including Scott, on the spot. Approximately 35 Trappers were accepted to WSU; 18 were accepted to WSUV—a dramatic increase over the previous year.

The experience provided valuable momentum. “Just to know that we were accepted was motivation to apply elsewhere, because if I’m accepted here, why can’t I get accepted here, here, and here?” said Scott, who also was accepted to Eastern Washington, Corban, and Grand Canyon universities.

With acceptance came an opportunity for 22 Fort students to participate in WSU’s Future Cougars of Color program, tour the campus and each earn a $1,000 WSU scholarship.

In March, another surge of momentum: a nomination for the George C. Marshall Youth Leadership Award, a prestigious local honor given annually to a Clark County senior who displays the leadership and integrity that characterized its namesake’s military and political careers. Scott didn’t like his chances of winning.

“There were so many good candidates there,” he recalled. “I thought, there’s no way I can win this. They do way more than I do. When they said my name, I was in shock.”

Along with the Marshall Award and scholarship, he’s earned a College Bound scholarship. When he graduates from high school in June, he’ll be in good company: 97 percent of Fort’s AVID senior class will receive diplomas.

Scott also will be the first person in his family to attend a four-year college. Though he loved visiting WSU, he’s decided to start closer to home, studying political science at WSUV and later international relations.

He’d like to join the Foreign Service after college, travel overseas and eventually land a job as an ambassador to a Latin American country.

But first, college—once a dubious idea and now a dream made real. He said, “My AVID family—we didn’t know how to get to college when we were in middle school. We barely even knew what college was. AVID was the thing that made us go to college, which is amazing.”