Golden grad

Alex Stelbicki received the $1,500 Golden Graduate Scholarship, given to an AVID senior at Columbia River High School. Next fall, he will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

When Dan Larson was a student at Hudson’s Bay High School, he had little formalized guidance through the labyrinth of applying to colleges, securing financial aid and getting set up for freshman year. Fortunately, Larson did have strong support from his parents, who steered him to a bachelor’s degree in history at Western Washington University, followed by a master’s degree in teaching at Concordia University.

Now, Larson is teaching at his alma mater. Through a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, he helps provide the missing link between high school and college.

Fifteen district schools at all grade levels offer AVID, a national approach to postsecondary readiness that does more than just present the idea of college as a laudable goal. Students, several of whom will be the first in their family to attend college, learn how to forge a clear path to get there.

No college-related stone is unturned. AVID students research colleges’ program offerings, tuition costs, enrollment numbers and average acceptance rates. They attend college fairs and participate in practice sessions to prepare for the high-stakes SAT and ACTs. Two testing fees are waived per student.

Guest speakers visit AVID classes to talk about their own college experiences. For an in-person look at campuses, students take field trips to schools around the Northwest.

Hudson’s Bay’s current crop of AVID seniors says that the program also offered them a means to organization and a method for tracking the process.

Visual displays serve as reminders of what juniors and seniors need to do accomplish just to get into a college or university. A large gridded bulletin board in Larson’s classroom acts as a public to-do list, with steps listed in rows and students’ names in columns. For each step completed, students earn stickers.

“I always knew I was going to college, but I didn’t know all the steps I needed to take. I didn’t know what the FAFSA [federal student aid application] was until AVID, and that really helped me a lot,” said Bay senior Allison Tapia, who will attend Washington State University to study elementary education.

Meanwhile, twice weekly tutorials are a benefit for their current classes. Said Tapia, “If we need help with an AP class or something that’s really challenging us, our peers and our tutors helped us a lot.”

Senior Vanessa Clark, who will study psychology and sociology at Washington State University next fall, added, “AVID furthers our critical-thinking skills. We learn how to analyze text, dissect questions and work around the average way of thinking about things. It helps us develop a deeper thought process.”

The first letter

For high schoolers in AVID, the prospect of college heightens suddenly after sophomore year. “You could see, junior year sliding into their senior year, how focused they became. It became tangible: This was really happening, they’re really going to college,” Larson said.

With the new focus came aids for getting through the time-consuming and often costly process of filling out applications. Four college application fee waivers per student lessen the financial burden of applying.

Partnerships with institutions such as Washington State University and Washington State University Vancouver that offer support from campus admissions reps leave little excuse for not applying. The schools’ early admissions process for AVID students has resulted in 14 students from Hudson’s Bay being admitted to WSUV and 29 being admitted to the Pullman campus this year. Over at Fort Vancouver High School, 13 students were admitted to WSUV, and 34 were admitted to Pullman.

AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, Hudson's Bay High School

Back row, from left: Hudson’s Bay AVID seniors Cinthia Huizar and Joselyn Rojas, teacher Dan Larson and AVID senior Vanessa Clark. Front row: AVID seniors Emma Meisner, Allison Tapia, Tyra Xaysombath and Nala Comstock.

When the first acceptance letter rolls in, “It’s a boost of confidence,” said Washington State University Vancouver–bound Nala Comstock, who also received the $2,500 AVID Western Division scholarship and plans to study business management or education.

The acceptances didn’t end with WSU and WSUV, however. The 31 Bay AVID seniors’ hard work has resulted in 71 college acceptances. Over the next four years, the group also will collect $1.3 million in grants and scholarships.

For them, the link between AVID and college is clear. Said Cinthia Huizar, who will attend Azusa Pacific University, in California, to pursue biochemistry, “I didn’t know what college was until I joined AVID. It made me have more opportunities for my future.”

But as AVID seniors graduate high school and gain new identities as college students, they will be saying goodbye to one thing, at least temporarily: the immediacy of the family-like atmosphere that many say is the best thing about AVID. “It’s not usual that you can go into a classroom and feel accepted by everyone and know that everybody is there for everyone else,” said Clark. “It’s one unit, instead of everyone as an individual.”