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Graduating from high school and going to college is a big deal. Being the first in a family to attend college is an even bigger deal.
The prospect of attending college is so daunting and foreign to many students that they don’t even consider it. But attitudes are changing, thanks to a program at Greenwich High School called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), originally funded by the Greenwich Alliance for Education.
During a 2008 review of college attendance data of Greenwich High School households, it was noted that in families where neither parent attended four years of college their children did not apply to or attend four year colleges themselves in numbers comparable to the overall GHS population.
It was found instead that these students were often enrolled in lower level classes and attended community college or entered the workforce directly after graduation. This was in spite of the fact that many were performing in the academic middle and seemed capable of taking advanced courses and entering the college track.
To address this need, GHS guidance applied for and received grant monies from the Greenwich Alliance for Education’s Reaching Out Grants program to pilot the implementation of AVID at GHS. AVID is a nationally acclaimed college readiness system with a curriculum for supporting and mentoring students, who meet the AVID profile, delivered through a formal class that emphasizes writing, inquiry, research and collaboration.
AVID is an additional class in the student’s schedule and does not take the place of any other required courses. Unique to the GHS model, the AVID teacher stays with his students from freshman through senior year. This is a key part of our local program’s effectiveness because the continuity fosters the formation of exceptionally close, trusting relationships.
June 21, 2013, marked the graduation of the first cohort of AVID students from Greenwich High School. All 16 seniors have been accepted to college and all will be the first in their families to attend college.
In addition to financial aid dollars, these students have been offered a total of over $300,000 merit awards with their college acceptances. We are all very proud of this successful group of young adults as well as their very dedicated AVID teacher and the GHS AVID Site Coordinator, who challenged and encouraged them to stretch academically and engage in the GHS community to accomplish their goal of attending college.
None of this would have been possible without the seed money -- nearly $83,000 over the first four years -- from the Alliance, that allowed for the pilot project and then its expansion. AVID is now funded by the Greenwich Public Schools as an achievement gap strategy and enrolls over 100 students in grades 9 through 12.
In addition to reaching students, AVID engages their families. According to Missy Brown, AVID 12 teacher and Greenwich’s nominee for CT Teacher of the Year, “Families who never felt connected to school now have a place and a reason to celebrate the rewards of education.”
We at the Alliance believe that there is still more to be done to support our AVID graduates. Both the financial burden and the structure of higher education will be both exciting and daunting for these students and their families. The Alliance is taking action to address both of these concerns by creating a college assistance program (CAP) and a mentorship program.
Through CAP we plan to provide stipends for all graduating AVID students, and we hope over time to create a fund large enough to assist students if their finances should potentially cause them to leave school.
Our mentoring program will offer these first generation college students another resource to help them navigate the new college environment and the potential challenges which can accompany this transition. We look to the Greenwich community for help funding the CAP program and we welcome applications from prospective volunteer mentors to “check in” with this year’s group of college bound AVID graduates.
Providing opportunities and services that foster educational success for students is part of the Alliance’s mission. We thank our donors for supporting the AVID program and our other Alliance programs which “open doors for kids in Greenwich.”
Julie Faryniarz is executive director of the Greenwich Alliance for Education.
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