Higher Education

I’m the first in my family to go to college thanks to a program my school district cut

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My family and I migrated to the United States from Mexico with dreams of a better future and education for my sister and me. But the language barrier made our adjustment very difficult. Through elementary and middle school, I often felt lost doing homework and class work. I had to learn the language before I could master the lessons.

To add to the challenges, my parents don’t have higher than a sixth grade education and were often busy working in fast food restaurants, so they were never home to help me. I might have ended up in a similar position if my sixth grade teacher from Northrup Elementary in Alhambra, a city outside of Los Angeles, had not believed I had potential and recommended me to the AVID program.

Valerie Cabral

Valerie Cabral

My life changed when I was introduced to AVID, which stands for Advancement via Individual Determination, a program for students who earn Cs, but have the determination to achieve more. Not only was the AVID classroom the first place I heard the word college, it was also where I found the support I needed to get to college, something my parents were unable to offer me with their 15-hour shifts.

But in 2012, my junior year of high school, AVID was eliminated from my school, Alhambra High, due to budget cuts. I was devastated. While I had already learned enough to apply to college and for financial aid on my own, for other students, including my younger siblings, the cut meant a loss of tutoring, field trips to colleges, parent education night, and trained academic support. AVID students fought the city council to keep the program, providing the council members with testimonies and success stories, but we were disappointed. And even with an influx of new state funding arriving, it looks like the program will be overlooked again. Without the AVID program, students like myself may not make it to college.

AVID provides the crucial support that students with busy parents, like myself, need. A high school teacher named Mary Catherine Swanson created the program in 1980. AVID is meant to serve students from lower socio-economic backgrounds that are the first generation to go to college, and thus need the most help getting there. The AVID program consists mainly of a class that students apply to take during their day at school. AVID also provides tutoring, college prep workshops, and college exposure so that the students have a variety of choices when it is time to apply for college. It has since grown into a nationwide program with more than 700,000 students in more than 4,800 schools throughout the U.S. and 16 other countries. AVID mainly serves minorities.

There is a particular need for AVID in the Alhambra school district: Half of the students are Hispanic, but they are the minority in Advanced Placement and honors classes at Alhambra High School. In addition to helping students prepare for college, AVID encourages students to take AP classes, which makes their applications more competitive and prepares them for the work they’ll encounter once they get there. According to AVID, “The proportion of Latinos taking AP exams is almost five times higher among AVID students than among U.S. students overall.”

Student Voices

What I would do with more money for California schools

This essay is part of a collaboration between The Hechinger Report and USC Annenberg’s Reporter Corps, which trains young adults from diverse and under-represented neighborhoods to report on their own communities. Students from Alhambra, California — a predominantly immigrant Los Angeles suburb — wrote about how they’d spend a new influx of funding for the state’s schools.

Ezra Broadus, an African-American Alhambra resident from a low-income family, is another student who, like myself, probably wouldn’t have aimed for high education without the program. Broadus was part of AVID for six years at Northrup Elementary and Alhambra High Schools. Because of AVID, Broadus graduated with a 3.4 GPA and now attends the University of La Verne.

“The AVID program gave me the opportunity to strive for college. Most of the middle academic students are forgotten, just go along with the school system, and don’t really worry about their lives after high school,” Broadus says. “The AVID program really helps these students prepare for school after high school and their careers for the rest of their lives.”

School officials say that while AVID was cut, the tenets of the program remain at the district. The AVID program was replaced at Alhambra High School with the Moors College Preparatory Program (MCPP), a class run by former AVID teachers. AVID was also replaced at the other two high schools in the Alhambra Unified School District, San Gabriel and Mark Keppel, although the replacement program (Horizons) at Mark Keppel was recently cut.

Arwendo Tendean, an Alhambra High senior, joined MCPP last spring. He is well fitted for AVID: he will be the first to go to college in his family. Like many other students, Arwendo had no one to ask about the college application process. Some of Arwendo’s friends were in the MCPP program, and referred him to the MCPP teacher so that he could be placed in the program and get the help he was searching for.

“After I joined MCPP, I saw that there were more colleges I could apply to because Mr. Sanchez brought in speakers from different colleges to talk to us about their schools,” Tendean says of MCPP instructor Jose Sanchez. “As of today I have applied to 11 schools thanks to the college awareness I got through MCPP.”

Nevertheless, though MCPP offers some college readiness workshops, peer tutoring, and academic support, the teachers say it’s not the same without the AVID funding. AVID costs around $80,000 per school for three years, which covers 120 students, according the AVID program’s contract for school districts. As of today, MCPP has no additional funding from the district, therefore it lacks the money to function properly and provide the students with college field trips, tutors, and college prep materials.

There is less accountability and management from the district, according to MCPP instructors. Dorothy Burkhart, former AVID teacher of 10 years, said that the replacement program for AVID does not require schools in the district to work together or to evaluate the program and report their progress, unlike AVID which required reported results on a regular basis.

“There was a great accountability on us to do our job and all work together when the AVID program was around,” Burkhart said. “Now all three high schools have different things going on, no one holds accountability for anything. We never meet, and Mark Keppel doesn’t even have a program anymore. No one wants to work hard.”

When the funding for AVID was cut, teachers interested in college preparatory and readiness programs at AUSD also lost opportunities for professional development. Sanchez, a former AVID teacher of eight years and current MCPP senior advisor, has attended AVID trainings on tutoring, college application and preparation, and discussion strategies.

“It is very crippling to not have the AVID name and the funding,” Sanchez said. “We do not have much support from the administrators and counselors, because when the AVID name went out so did all of these things.”

AUSD Superintendent Laura Tellez suggested in an interview that former AVID teachers who have been to trainings should help train other teachers. But Burkhart worries this would further reduce accountability.

“I’d much rather see a commitment from the district to teach these types of strategies. It’s hard to just train other teachers and allow AVID to continue unfunded, especially because we believe in the program,” she said.

I hoped that with the new source of state funds for schools, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), AVID might be brought back. The governor of California, Jerry Brown, passed legislation during the year of 2013 that would allow schools to get extra funding for students who are English learners, receive free or reduced lunch, and have learning disabilities. LCFF shifts California’s inequitable funding system to a “need-based” funding formula for students. It also gives districts the power to choose how the money is allocated.

But AVID will likely not be restored, according to Tellez, since MCPP has replaced it. Assistant Superintendent Denise Jaramillo echoed Tellez, saying that AVID is just a “brand name.”

“Whether we choose to go back and buy that brand and use it I don’t know, our program people would have to decide that,” Jaramillo said.

With the influx of money from the LCFF, the district should consider using the funds to incorporate programs like AVID back into schools. AVID engages middle-achieving students in school and helps them pursue a higher education. Through AVID students have the opportunity to get tutors during the week, they have a greater chance of traveling to see college campuses, and get direct help through the college application process. Unfortunately the replacement program does not provide the same opportunities because the district has not provided the funding to do so. The current MCPP students are getting cheated out of the great opportunities a well-funded program like AVID could offer them.

My family and I recently moved to the city of Rosemead, which is two cities away from Alhambra. While it was hard to leave our childhood home, we are excited because Rosemead High School still has AVID. I’m glad my sister is going to have the opportunity to be a part of the AVID program, which I know will help her get to college.

This story was produced by USC Annenberg’s Reporter Corps, which trains young adults from diverse and under-represented neighborhoods to report on their own communities, in partnership with The Hechinger Report. The local news site Alhambra Source, which is also affiliated with USC, hosted the project.

 

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