They are the forgotten middle. Often times the least served. One program is out to change that.
The Advancement Via Individual Determination program (AVID) is now in its second year of existence at Greenwich High School. AVID is a nationally-recognized program designed to help students in the academic middle succeed in high school, and increase the number of students from this group that go on to attend a four-year college. At Greenwich High School, the program is made possible by a grant from the Greenwich Alliance for Education.
Earlier this month, the program hosted its first college panel, where a mix of GHS seniors and alumni spoke to current AVID students about the college experience, taking questions from the students on topics ranging from college admissions to living in a dormitory.
The panel was diverse. There were three high school seniors and college students from Carnegie Mellon, Temple, Marist, UPenn, and SUNY Buffalo. The message was consistent. The AVID students were told that college is a completely different experience from high school, that the adjustment to dorm life is a dramatic one, that the work load is more intense, and that developing good study habits is essential. They also learned about the college application process, about not leaving things to the last minute when applying to schools. And they were told by one current college student, Pablo Cameselle, a sophomore at Marist, that college is “a little more strict than you see on TV.”
Over the course of an hour, the panelists shared their stories and advice.
“College is sort of a surreal experience,” said Nigel Alcorn, a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon and the son of Ken Alcorn, a Social Studies and AVID teacher at Greenwich High. “It’s an isolated experience in your life. You’re with all people your age, all going through the same thing. If you go in there nervous, there’s probably 10 people more nervous than you.”
Approximately 90 percent of AVID students nationwide go on to attend college. The goal of the panel was to orient the current crop of AVID students to that goal.
“I think the overall goal of the college panel was to expose the AVID students to testimonials from students who have gone through the college process,” said Mara Adelsberg, a guidance counselor and AVID teacher at GHS. “[The] majority of our panelists have a similar profile to the AVID students and we felt our students would identify with their experiences. The hope was to increase awareness of the college process, and more importantly, to help the AVID students understand the importance of their time spent at GHS - academically, extracurricularly, emotionally, etc. - and the impact their decisions will have on their post-secondary plans. A key to AVID is exposing the students to college in as many ways possible in an effort to build a college-going culture among AVID students. Most of these students will be the first in their family to attend college.”
Ken Alcorn, who attended the panel along with AVID colleagues Melissa Macchio and Adelsberg, thought the panelists had a lot to offer considering how close they are in age to the AVID students.
“Typically, teenagers are more receptive to messages from those closer to their age and experience,” Alcorn said. “So by bringing in college students and current GHS seniors, most of whom would have fit the AVID profile had the program been offered a few years ago, we were looking to reinforce our message that college is an attainable goal, but one that requires hard work, focus, and individual determination. Furthermore, we are working to give our students as many experiences as possible to help them develop realistic perceptions of college life, especially the expectations for academic performance.”
To that extent, the college panel was organized to help students set goals and develop a plan to achieve them.
“This event was one more step along the path of demystifying college for these students,” Ken Alcorn said. “It is the difference between a dream and a goal, in my mind. A dream is something vague that we think and perhaps hope will happen; a goal is something specific and realistically attainable through an informed plan of action. The more these students know about college and the more they can relate to individuals who have attained that goal, the more successful they will be in their pursuit of that goal themselves.”
Last year, AVID students visited Sacred Heart and Fordham. This fall they visited UConn Storrs and a trip is being planned for the spring, possibly to Iona College. The college panel was one more step in getting AVID students to understand the opportunities that are there for the taking.
“The most significant take-away from the program was hearing how each panelist’s internal motivation was a huge driving force in their success in college admission and also as a college student,” Adelsberg said. “Further, each panelist spoke about having supports in place to help them get to where they are. I am confident that AVID is one of the many supports in place for these students that will help them achieve their goals.”
All involved – from the students to the panelists to the teachers - concluded that the forum was a huge success. Going forward, the goal for these students remains the same.
“We will continue to expose the students to the college experience through field trips to universities and meetings with appropriate role models,” Ken Alcorn said. “Also, we will be addressing that question about gaining access to more rigorous academic classes (a topic that came up during the discussion) by coaching the students in study habits, self-advocacy strategies, and short and long-term goal-setting and planning.”