By Rob Gira, Executive Vice President, AVID Center
Cindy Zavala is an AVID graduate from Fairfax County Public Schools. She exemplifies all we look for in our young people: hard-working, resolute, resilient, and caring. She is beginning her senior year at American University in Washington, D.C.
In June, through the good graces of the American Youth Policy Forum, I had a chance to work with a panel to present AVID’s perspective to a gathering on Capitol Hill. AYPF does terrific work, and their Executive Director, Betsy Brand, is a true thought-leader in American education. Cindy was part of our panel. A transcript of the entire proceedings is available online.
Among Zavala's many honors is her recognition as a Dell Scholar. As she was just beginning her senior year, following the event, I asked Zavala to respond to four questions:
Gira: Why has AVID remained important to you during college?
Zavala: The idea/philosophy of "learning how to learn" has helped me sustain myself in college. AVID taught me this philosophy through many skills, such as taking Cornell notes, participating in tutorials, and organizing my work through the use of one binder. These skills changed my habits as a student. This philosophy also allowed me to tap into all the resources that are provided for college students. Many college students do not know how to learn or how to use the resources universities provide. This is such an often-overlooked crucial skill. I was taught to engage with my Career Center when I was in high school in AVID. I knew who worked at my high school Career Center and thus I knew how to engage myself in that environment. In college, I have been able to engage myself at my university's Academic Support Center, Career Center, and other spaces. I believe I have excelled in these environments because of AVID.
Gira: You have said, “I didn’t always love AVID, but I loved the results.” Please give some examples of what you didn’t love, but, in the end benefited you.
Zavala: I have always loved learning, but like many students, I did not love homework. I did not love having to carry a binder around or the work it involved. I did not love having to come up with a tutorial question before class. However, I loved that moment I learned something or a concept finally clicked. I loved how easy learning became once I learned to be organized. This might be strange or hard to understand, but I absolutely love AVID even though I disliked almost everything I had to do in AVID.
Gira: You have said that AVID helped your family become smarter “school parents.” Please give some examples.
Zavala: Mr. Steele and Ms. P are my school parents. Before AVID, my parents were the only people I looked up to or asked for advice. AVID taught me that it was okay and that I actually needed to find people who could help me when my parents could not. AVID helped me teach my parents what they could do to support me in my desire to go to college, so in that sense it helped my parents. I remember Mr. Steele asking me "How are you going to learn what you need to learn in order to go to college if your parents can't help you?" I had wanted to be a lawyer, and Mr. Steele asked me what I wanted to be and who I wanted to be like. He then asked me if I knew anyone like this. I told him that I didn't. And then he asked me a question that changed my life (another turning point), "How are you going to learn what you need to do to be a lawyer if you do not know any lawyers?" It was then that Mr. Steele introduced me to the idea of having a mentor. I knew then that I needed a lawyer mentor, but I did not stop there! I got a mentor for everything! I now surround myself with positive people I admire and whom I can learn from. I love it! I love my group of friends and I love my mentors, my school parents, and my parents. Yes, AVID taught me that it was okay to have a mentor...what a beautiful lesson.
Gira: You are graduating nearly debt-free. How did you manage that?
Zavala: I owe this one to my 12th grade AVID teacher (Ms. Marinus), Ms. Allison (who worked at the Career Center at my high school), and the Dell Scholars Program. Ms. Allison taught me the difference between a subsidized loan and unsubsidized loan when I was applying for schools. I was not even in college and I already knew about financial aid. Ms. Marinus saved me from so many financial headaches by telling me to apply to scholarships, including the Dell Scholars, which awards students $20,000 as well as technology, resources, and mentoring. She also told me about federal work study and I have had a job every year because of that. Throughout college, I have felt ahead of the game (at least in the debt area). I know some students in college who still do not realize the impact these loans are really going to have in their lives. The Dell Scholars program has kept me in check. They constantly make me fill out forms and I have to let them know how I am doing. Basically, Dell gives me homework (financial aid homework) that other college students are not getting. Thank God for Dell!
Four Questions For... is a new feature in our Adventures in College & Career Readiness blog! Look for more interviews with notable people from the AVID world and experts and thought leaders in education.