For some students at Stillwater Area High School, the path to college is well-worn by parents, grandparent and older siblings. But for students with parents who didn’t attend college, the path can be unfamiliar and daunting.
Five years ago, the Stillwater Area School District began offering a class to a group of eighth-graders who had all the makings of college-bound students but lacked the family knowledge and resources on how to make those dreams a reality. This week, all 17 of the seniors in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program will graduate from high school with plans to attend a higher education institute in the fall.
Senior Jared Taylor has been a part of the AVID program from the beginning.
“I joined AVID in eighth grade when it just started,” Taylor said. “I always wanted to go to college, and this class helped me to achieve that.”
Taylor’s parents did not attend college and, at the time, Taylor didn’t know if he was going to be able to continue his education after high school. Then Taylor’s teachers recommended him for a spot in the newly formed AVID class.
“They said, ‘You guys are the academic middle, you are the guys that don’t often get the help,’” Taylor said. “‘We want to help you guys achieve what you want to.’ That kind of struck home for me.”
The AVID class is different than a study hall — it focuses on giving students who want to work hard at being college ready, but lack the tools needed to achieve their goals. Students practiced study skills and writing samples, worked in small groups or with tutors, prepared for the ACT together, visited local colleges and filled out applications.
“It’s about how to get into college, but it is also tips on how to be a successful student,” Taylor said. “Note-taking techniques, study skills, interview skills, writing sample — things that would help us be successful in the world after college.”
Taylor plans to attend the University of Wisconsin in River Falls and study journalism.
Teacher Stacy Bartlett became the advisor for the first class of AVID students when they transferred to the high school. Bartlett said she took on the new program because she wanted to keep challenging herself as a teacher and she believed in the importance of “soft skills.”
“I have implemented the study skills used in the AVID program into my biology class,” Bartlett said. “I have always been an advocate for those soft skills like using a planner and effective note-taking.”
Bartlett has kept advising the same group of AVID students for the past three years, and has formed a supportive relationship with her students that they may not have at home.
“I don’t think it is a class for everyone, but the skills that are learned in the class are for everyone,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said AVID program isn’t solely for low-income students, students of color or first -neration college students, but there are students in the program who fit in those categories.
“The students that we recommend for AVID are those who are motivated, who show up for the interview and want to be in the program,” Bartlett said.
When senior Cailey Boisvert signed up for AVID in her sophomore year, it was just a class she could take with a friend. A once-shy, soft-spoken student, Boisvert said AVID helped her find her voice where she developed a passion for politics and law.
“In politics you can affect not just individuals but entire communities, and that really appeals to me,” Boisvert said. “At the beginning of AVID, I was really shy and didn’t have many friends and I would have never dreamed of going into law.”
Boisvert plans to attend Hamline University and eventual study law with a desire to become a politician in the future. She credits her time with AVID as the way she found the ability to reach her goal, despite not knowing much about the program in the beginning.
“I know there is a lot of hesitance about going into AVID because people don’t know that much about it,” Boisvert said. “I’m living proof that it is so beneficial and it will help.”
When senior Diana Martinez attends Century College in the fall, she will become the first person in her family to go to college. Neither of her parents graduated from high school. Martinez joined the AVID program this school year after talking with her younger sister, who was in the AVID program for her grade level.
“My sister was already in AVID, and I didn’t know anything about the program,” Martinez said. “I asked her about it and decided to join.”
Martinez said she wanted to become a nurse, but didn’t have the skills or know the right people to ask for help to prepare for the college application process.
“I did not know much about college because neither of my parents went to college and I had nobody to guide me to the college path,” Martinez said. “I always knew I was going to go to college, but I was indecisive and didn’t know where.”
In college, Martinez will combine an aptitude for science and passion for caring for children.
“I love babies — I have six younger sisters and I grew up taking care of them,” Martinez said. “I also love science, and nursing brings both of those together as a delivery and labor nurse.”
AVID began with a class of 47 students in 2012 and has grown to 217 students taking part in the program at the high school and two junior high schools. To learn more about AVID, visit stillwaterschools.org/academics-activities/avid.
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]