AVID graduates its first class of ‘sweet 16’

The 16 students who made up the first graduating class of the AVID program were called the “sweet 16.” They will be the first in their families to attend college and Tuesday night they celebrated their achievement. — Ken Borsuk photo

The 16 students who made up the first graduating class of the AVID program were called the “sweet 16.” They will be the first in their families to attend college and Tuesday night they celebrated their achievement.
— Ken Borsuk photo

A special ceremony held Tuesday night marked a distinctive occasion for both the Greenwich Alliance for Education (GAE) and 16 Greenwich High School seniors who will each be the first in their families to attend college.

Held at the UConn Stamford campus, the event celebrated the graduates of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program — a college-readiness system developed by the GAE and designed to increase the number of students who enroll in four-year colleges.

According to AVID Executive Director Julie Faryniarz, GAE funded the first grant proposal for AVID in 2008 and has helped fund the program in various other ways since that time. The program was piloted at GHS after guidance counselors and other administrators recognized that a number of students who were taking low-level classes showed great promise but tended not to apply to college because their parents never had, Ms. Faryniarz told the Post.

Today, GAE continues to seek out innovative educational programs in Greenwich public schools, but will never cease to support AVID.

“We are so incredibly proud of this program,” Ms. Faryniarz said.

Tuesday’s graduation ceremony was presided over by AVID coordinator and GHS guidance counselor Mara Adelsberg. In her opening remarks, Ms. Adelsberg referred to AVID teachers as the “backbone” of the program and told students and their families, “you are the pulse and energy that makes this program so vibrant and strong.”

A number of AVID underclassmen also spoke at the event, praising the program and attributing their academic successes to the skills learned while participating in it. The students often described the community and camaraderie students shared with their teachers and one another and frequently referred to the group as a family. And while many students spoke of their improvement in organizational and other college preparatory skills, they specifically applauded AVID for making them feel that they never had to go it alone and would always have a support system to guide them through their struggles.

“AVID has really helped me push through everything,” freshman Patricia David said.

Plenty of adult speakers also stepped up to the podium at the event, including First Selectman Peter Tesei, Deputy Superintendent Ellen Flanagan and GHS Headmaster Chris Winters, who told students more than once that he was “gushing with pride” over their achievements.

When it was time for AVID senior class teacher Missy Brown — representative for Greenwich in the 2014 Connecticut Teacher of the Year program — to speak, a visibly emotional Ms. Brown said she chose to show her graduates how much the program meant to her via a slideshow. The presentation showed the growth of the seniors over their high school careers and the emphasis AVID places on team work and team bonding.

“We celebrate each other’s successes,” Ms. Brown said, adding that she was proud to find that during the school year, students spontaneously erupted into applause each time they discovered that a member of the AVID senior class had received a college acceptance letter.

Ms. Brown told students it was both difficult and rewarding to acknowledge their absence when, at the end of the school year, they each went off to an internship in place of attending her AVID class. Proud of the seniors for the strides they’d made towards becoming adults but sad to think of their departure, Ms. Brown said she finally thought of something that comforted her.

“What I realized was AVID’s not over. We’re going to be together for a really long time… Knowing that relieves the pressure that I don’t have to say it all right now. I don’t have to tell you … how much I respect you, how much I love you, how much you mean to me because this isn’t good-bye.”

It seems the feelings are mutual. In an interview with the Post, AVID senior Annie Zheng said she was extraordinarily grateful for Ms. Brown’s guidance and for the overall warmth she felt as a member of the AVID program.

Beginning high school as a shy, soft-spoken girl, Annie said the program’s opportunities to speak in public helped her find the confidence to break out of her shell. And in addition to greatly improving her study habits, the program made the college application process bearable, Annie said. The senior will attend Syracuse University in the fall and said she escaped half of the battle college applications present due to AVID’s college essay preparation and the program’s emphasis on completing applications well ahead of time.

AVID senior Edna Navarro echoed Annie’s sentiments, crediting the program with dramatically reducing the stress of college applications. In fact, the future UConn student had completed all of her applications by November of the current school year, while many of her friends had not even begun the process, she said. More importantly, she added, AVID taught her the responsibility and hard work it takes to make it through high school and into a university. By her senior year, Edna had taken on two jobs, as well as an internship, and had accomplished much more at a young age than would have been possible without the program, she said.

And although AVID takes up much of its participants’ schedule space, Edna said she would highly recommend the program to incoming high schoolers, who will learn to take advantage of GHS and the opportunities it has to offer.

AVID not only made the senior more mature and academically accomplished, but helped her socially, professionally and in a variety of other ways, Edna said, adding that her fellow classmates were like a family to her.

Upon accepting their certificates of achievement for the program at Tuesday’s event, the “sweet 16” of the graduating AVID class were also rewarded by some high profile outsiders. The students each received citations from Gov. Dannel Malloy, along with a message of encouragement, as well as from the U.S. Congress, by way of State Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th).

To learn more about AVID visit Greenwichalliance.org.


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