First-generation Fort Collins students look toward higher ed future

8:47 AM, May 27, 2013   |    comments
Angelica Hernandez, 17, from lower-left to right, Andrea Chavira, 18, Rodrigo Sepulveda, 18, and Jerry Alvarez, 18, are graduating from only Poudre High School on Saturday with the help of a program known as Advancement Via Individual Determination. Through AVID, each of the four first-generation students worked toward and achieved their goal of being accepted to a four-year university. / Madeline Novey/The Coloradoan
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FORT COLLINS - When Poudre High School senior Jerry Alvarez walks across the stage Saturday at Moby Arena and takes his diploma in hand, he forges a path to higher education not only for himself but for someone looking up to him.

The 18-year-old soccer player is college bound, headed to University of Northern Colorado in Greeley to study athletic training this fall. He's also the first in his family to do so; he feels a responsibility to set a good example and be a resource when the day comes for his 6-year-old brother Victor to embark on the often-overwhelming and challenging road to education after high school.

"I have to do it for my little brother," Alvarez said Friday morning, sitting in the grass outside Moby after graduation practice. "I have to be that leader."

Poudre School District will graduate approximately 1,850 seniors this spring.

Alvarez, Andrea Chavira, 18, Angelica Hernandez, 17, and Rodrigo Sepulveda, 18, are four among 17 graduates leaving not only Poudre High but a program known as Advancement Via Individual Determination.

Mixed with individual hard work, AVID helped 13 of these 17 get into a two- or four-year university or college. Some students doubt they would have gone the road alone.

The AVID program started in PSD under former Superintendent Don Unger in 2001. It is a national program that gets students thinking about and planning for college as early as elementary school.

PSD has programs tailored to gifted and talented students or those with disabilities. But roughly 80 percent of the district's 27,000 learners fall into the "academic middle," said Alicia Durand, principal of Wellington Middle School, which was named an AVID Demonstration school this spring.

That's where AVID comes in, said Durand, also PSD's AVID director.

AVID is intrinsically rooted in some school cultures and brand new to others - so new, in fact, courses won't start in earnest at some schools until fall. Wellington, Blevins and Blotz middle schools, and Poudre and Fort Collins high schools are AVID sites.
Students can enroll in the AVID elective course as soon as sixth grade and stick with it through their senior year.

The course guides participants not only through study skills they can use in middle and high school but also college visits, the higher education culture and how to apply to college and for scholarships. It also pushes learners to challenge themselves beyond expectations - this could include taking Advanced Placement courses at the high school level.

Blevins Principal David Linehan talks about something he refers to as "cultural capital." Growing up in poverty and watching three siblings not finish high school, Linehan didn't have access to that capital: the built-in family understanding of the value of academics and institutional knowledge about things such as what it's like to go to college and how to get there.

As the first to attend college, Chavira can relate.

"Your family doesn't know what you have to do and what you're going through," said Chavira, who credited those with AVID and other programs for helping her navigate college applications and apply for much-needed financial aid and scholarships.

Marisela Ruvalcaba always played doctor as a little girl and dreamed of a career in medicine. Going to college was something she wanted but wasn't sure was possible.

Her parents, Ines and Norma, came to the U.S. from Mexico and didn't have an opportunity to study beyond the elementary level. They supported her ambitions but didn't know how to help her get there. Through AVID - at Wellington Middle and Poudre High School - Ruvalcaba made it to UNC, from which she graduated in 2011.

The 23-year-old now works as a registered nurse for Columbine Health Services and has her eyes set toward graduate school. Her sister Susana, 20, said it was her sister's accomplishment that pushed her through AVID and into CSU, where she just finished her sophomore year.

"I could see that it could be done," Susana said of watching her role model take on the challenge of climbing the ladder to college.

About 350 students have participated in AVID each year since its launch in PSD. Of those roughly 80 percent are accepted to a two- or four-year college or university. That number might be closer to 50 percent, without the program, PHS AVID Coordinator and social studies teacher Lori Davis said.

(Copyright © 2013 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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