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99% Graduate High School

AVID Teachers Joan Swim, Stephanie Dingle, Student Daniela Ontiveros
AVID Teachers Joan Swim, Stephanie Dingle, Student Daniela Ontiveros

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – A national college readiness program for at-risk kids boasts a 99 percent high school graduation rate. Nearly all of those students then finish college. KERA's Bill Zeeble talked to those in the AVID program, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.

For the past 2 weeks in Dallas, about 2,000 public school teachers from around the country have received training in AVID, a non-profit program in schools across 45 states. It targets students who could fall between the cracks. Maybe one or both parents are incarcerated - or dead. There might be little money in the household. Maybe no one's there to encourage an education. 17 year old North Garland High School senior - we'll call Anthony - was in gangs since he was 13.

Anthony: I know people in jail, I know people who passed away -rest in peace - and I'm thankful I'm not one of them.

Anthony's mother served 2 years in jail on drug charges. His dad disappeared more than 10 years ago. But teachers in the AVID program saw he had potential, especially he came to them with his story.

Anthony: One day I went to see my mom in jail. We had this deep conversation. She cried to me. And I went to my teacher. I told her exactly what was going on, what's happening. I told her I wanted a better life. (There were) just too many people dying around me, too many people going to jail.

He got in, and says he's seen himself change for the better. He's confident that in a year, he'll graduate and head to college. Stephanie Dingle teaches English in North Garland High School's AVID program. She keeps an eye out for students like Anthony.

Stephanie Dingle, AVID teacher, North Garland High School:
They're kind of the middle of the road kid, academically. They're capable but maybe don't know how to get to college, or don't know those options are available to them.

Another teacher, Joan Swim, at Richardson's Berkner High School, says AVID students are often the first in their family to attend college.

Joan Swim: They are determined. They may not know the path, but they're determined to go farther than high school graduation. We have emails going out to our staff all the time, to our AP and pre-AP teachers, that are looking for those students that, with a little extra boost, could go way beyond whatever they expected.

Students like 16 year-old Daniela Ontiveros. She says her mother never finished high school, and could care less about what she did. Daniela had heard about her relatives making bets years ago, that she would be a pregnant drop-out by this age. But she also heard about the AVID program, and wanted it. She also took up cello, which her aunt played.

Daniela Ontiveros: Avid and then orchestra. This is what I need, this is where I need to be involved, because what to do at home? I don't want to see this life, I don't want to get reminded of it. I just want to come home and sleep.

Ontiveros has excelled. She plays cello in the school orchestra, has a 4.0 grade point average, and is in the National Honor Society. She says she's put up with insults at home, and in school.

Ontiveros: I will never forget this. Some kids were telling me, "Why are you in AVID? I heard it's easy. Why are you in AVID? It sucks,right?" I said, "Whoa baby, look at your grades and look at my grades, and you'll see the answer." I thought that was funny.

Ontiveros hopes to attend UT Austin. She wants to be a doctor. Her teachers, also bright, wouldn't bet against her.

Email Bill Zeeble