Greenwich school district celebrates AVID graduates

The members of this year’s AVID class, the second in Greenwich High School history, posed for a celebratory photo at Monday’s graduation ceremony.

The members of this year’s AVID class, the second in Greenwich High School history, posed for a celebratory photo at Monday’s graduation ceremony.

For many Greenwich students, attending college has been a foregone conclusion from the very beginning of their academic careers. But that’s not the case for everyone.

There are still those among the 2,687 students at Greenwich High School who aspire to be the first in their family to attend college. However, without the proper coaching these oft overlooked pupils may be left unprepared for the college application process and the high level of demand that comes along with higher education. Enter AVID.

Building off an initiative launched by the Greenwich Alliance for Education, Greenwich High School is thriving with the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. AVID’s goal is ensuring that the school’s least served students, those in the academic middle, would receive the tutelage necessary to reach a four-year institution.

Last year, the program saw each of its first graduates, the “Sweet 16,” move on to college. This year’s class has expanded to 23, and is even more successful, having earned $1.5 million in merit scholarships in addition to college placement for every student.

The Greenwich School District and the Greenwich Alliance for Education welcomed the graduating AVID class to the Eastern Greenwich Civic Center in Old Greenwich June 2 for a warm reception and celebration of their achievements. Speakers included U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th), First Selectman Peter Tesei and Deputy Superintendent of Schools Ellen Flanagan. Current, past and future AVID students took the podium as well to share their experiences with the program, highlighting the strength and necessity of the program.

Mr. Himes, a Cos Cob resident, brought official Congressional certificates of achievements for all of the graduates.

It was a big night of achievement for the students, celebrating accomplishments even they didn’t know they were capable of.

“I thought it was just a waste of time, a free class, but it really did help me,” said AVID graduate Jonathan Flores who will be attending Eastern Nasarene College. “You go into high school not knowing what’s to come and AVID helps you figure that out.”

Led by AVID site coordinator and GHS guidance counselor Mara Adelsberg, the program recruits middle school students through a thorough application process that includes an interview, teacher recommendations and a writing sample. Though AVID students were originally chosen at the end of eighth grade, the program has been expanded to include seventh and eighth grade classes from Central Middle School.

Continuing the process of expansion, GHS will have two ninth grade AVID classes starting in the fall to accommodate both the current AVID middle schoolers, and those recruited from Eastern and Western Middle School. With 50 freshmen expected to participate in the program next school year, Ms. Adelsberg praised the “slow and steady” pace at which the program has grown with last year’s class starting out as GHS freshmen and going through AVID to the end of their senior years and another class following each year behind them.

“I think one of the reasons AVID has been successful is that we didn’t rush into anything. We slowly expanded, one grade per year,” Ms. Adelsberg, who received the school district’s Distinguished Teacher Award earlier this month, said. “For a while we only had one grade, then two, then three grades, and I think once we got it down, that’s what we’ve had this success.

Greenwich School District administrators have acknowledged the need for AVID, even at a school where 80% of graduates go to four-year colleges. AVID works to develop each of the students as individuals, and provide the specific support they need to excel.

“When you look at this program and the kind of interventions it makes, you see that you succeed by helping each individual on a daily basis,” Greenwich High School Headmaster Chris Winters said at the event. “We give them the skills and you give them the knowledge, but they also need those adults in their life who are going to make the difference, and that’s why this program is so successful.”

Locally, AVID was the brainchild of the Greenwich Alliance for Education, a group dedicated to raising private funds to help enhance the Greenwich Public Schools. The alliance funded the first few years of the program before the high school made it part of its budget and it still helps today, through both a mentoring program and also by giving the graduating seniors gift cards for them to buy text books when they get to college

The Monday night celebration may have been for the students, but the amount of pride, care and excitement exuded from parents and school staff was palpable through out the evening.

“It’s hard to paint the words, what it feels like. I was the first in my family to go to college,” Eastern Middle School Principal Ralph Mayo said. “Somebody’s gotta be first and God bless ’em, they’re gonna do well.”

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