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Erika Diaz, Santa Cruz High Class of 2013, UC Santa Cruz Class of 2017

As new students arrive at UCSC and begin to prepare for their first college classes, we spoke with recent Santa Cruz High graduate, Erika Diaz, about how her experience as a long-time AVID student helped to prepare her for her first year at UCSC.

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a college readiness program that supports and challenges individual students as it also increases schoolwide learning and performance. The formula is simple – raise the expectations for students and, with the AVID support system in place, they will rise to the challenge. Beginning in middle school, students enroll in the AVID elective class where they learn study skills, organizational strategies and self-advocacy. Working in groups and with tutors, students learn to use the Cornell method of note-taking to retain key information and engage in peer to peer Socratic seminars to deepen their knowledge. AVID students are typically in the academic “middle” and are often the first in their family to consider attending college.

What differentiates AVID from other educational reform programs is its astounding success rate. Since 2005, nearly 125,000 AVID students nationwide have graduated from high school and planned to attend college. Of the 27,891 AVID graduates in 2011, 91% plan to attend a postsecondary institution; 58% in four-year institutions and 33% in two-year institutions.

The Santa Cruz Education Foundation has been a strong supporter of the AVID program for years, successfully advocating to expand the program to serve students in all of our middle and high schools. “We believe in AVID not only for the direct support it provides participating college-bound students, but also for its school-wide impact on all students,” said Suz Howells, Ed Foundation Executive Director. “AVID not only teaches students how to ‘do’ school; it teaches them why to ‘do’ school.” As district AVID programs have strengthened, more students are choosing college preparatory classes – and more students are succeeding academically.

ErikaDiazMeet Erika Diaz

Erika Diaz began AVID as a 7th grader at Mission Hill Middle School and continued in the program every year through high school. During her Senior year, when she didn’t have an available class in her schedule, she created the AVID Club to remain connected to her AVID family and provide additional support for younger students.

Benefits of participation

We asked Erika what she felt were the greatest benefits she realized as an AVID student. “AVID was more than just a place to get help with classes and field trips to visit colleges, it included the faculty and all the students,” she told us. “It also opened me up to the idea that college was accessible. What I learned in middle school, I applied in high school. They say colleges don’t look at your first year in high school but I wasn’t willing to take a risk and slack off. I asked myself if all my hard work was really worth it. The answer was always ‘yes’ and my AVID family was there to remind me.”

Students apply the skills they learn in AVID to all of their courses. Part study-hall, part boot camp for life, the AVID approach shows students how to tap into their own strengths and buoys them as they meet challenges. It worked for Erika. “I learned to build relationships with my teachers, so that asking questions would feel less intimidating. I kept clear notes— I’m reviewing them now to prepare for my college calculus class. Most of all AVID opened me up from a shy girl who would cry when standing in front of a class to one capable of delivering confident presentations.”

The AVID family

Students enrolled in AVID become each other’s strongest supporters. “AVID does so much more than help you take notes and ask questions, it’s the one constant in your academic life. Join AVID and before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to going to class and seeing your family, because that’s what AVID is: a family,” said Erika. In addition to peer relationships, mentors are an essential part of the program. The Santa Cruz Education Foundation, with the help of the Monterey Peninsula Youth Fund, provides funds for tutor/mentors who lead small group discussions and provide individual help with classwork. Completing the circle, most of the tutors are UCSC students, many of them former AVID students themselves.

Looking ahead: College and beyond

From the very first class meeting, students are encouraged to think about the future and to believe in their own ability to do the hard work to make their plans a reality. In AVID, students become confident in themselves. They know when to seek help and where to find it. AVID students also learn the importance of building a community around themselves and the importance of giving back. Erika Diaz embodies the AVID promise. “My plan for college is to be more than just another student ID in the system. I’m already an intern for my school’s diversity program. I’ve joined support groups like AVID, and I’ve made connections with faculty.  With support I hope to double major in bioengineering and bioinformatics, then obtain a PhD in biomolecular engineering. I need the support, and thanks to AVID I’m not afraid to find it.”

 We plan to follow Erika as she pursues her goal and share news about the many students at all of our schools benefitting from the AVID approach.