By Rob Gira, Executive Vice President, AVID Center
Cynthia Arellano is a 4-year AVID graduate of San Dieguito Academy, who then went on to receive her B.A. in Sociology and Liberal Studies from California State University, San Marcos and her teaching credential as well. Cynthia is a first-generation college graduate. She received her Master’s degree in Sociological Practice in 2012. She has been a guest speaker at AVID events and has written and spoken her poetry about her AVID experience. She is currently an AVID and Dual Language Spanish Social Studies teacher at Meadowbrook Middle School in Poway, California. Two years ago, she became the national coordinator for the AVID Alumni Association. These questions were excerpted from a radio interview conducted last year. For the entire radio program, go to AVID College Ready Radio.
Cynthia is also a keynoter and presenter at our upcoming AVID National Conference in Orlando, Florida.
You have been an AVID student, tutor, teacher, alum, and leader. Why has AVID been so important to you?
It’s a big deal to me for many reasons. As a student, it was nice to know someone had high expectations of you, and they were going to give you the tools to reach those expectations. In AVID, you are given applicable strategies and learn how to set goals for yourself and make sure they are attainable and real. Throughout my life, ever since AVID, that’s how I’ve chosen to live, setting high goals for myself and working towards accomplishing them.
As a tutor, I enjoyed providing small-group support to students to enhance their level of confidence while they attain success. In small groups, I was able to model and teach students those skills that I use in the college setting to help them master various subject areas despite the difficulty level.
As a teacher, it is probably the most rewarding experience, because you make an enduring contribution that involves: giving the kids the tools to feel successful, experiencing important victories with students, and, ultimately, watch them reach their maximum. I aspire to help my students self-advocate, identify their goals, increase self-management so they can keep track of their grades, improve their communication skills, and ultimately own their triumph.
As an AVID alumni leader, this is a new experience for me but it’s really rewarding to work for AVID. Having experienced AVID at varied levels allows me to take everything I’ve learned and, knowing the true value of the program, I am honored to be an advocate and trailblazer for those who follow. I am so fortunate to work with other alumni who share that passion and determination that drives our alumni association forward.
Your AVID teacher was Michelle Mullen, who is AVID Center’s Executive Vice President overseeing our Curriculum and Learning department. How did she support you and what is her legacy with you?
I look at Ms. Mullen as the epitome of an AVID teacher. Our story goes way back because I still remember the first day I walked into the classroom and felt that sense of home, just in her demeanor, actions, and words. She is AVID; she helped all of her students feel welcome and prepared them to take the next step academically. I remember when she left us, when she told us she was moving on to be a teacher leader at Cal State San Marcos, and we all thought “Why would you do that to us?” She explained everything and helped us understand why this was important to her and to us. She always came back to our AVID banquets and I eventually followed her to Cal State San Marcos for college. She was teaching in the high school credential program and then she went on to work at AVID Center. For me, to see my AVID teacher reach her own objectives for the purpose of helping all of her students—that is the legacy she has left with me. I want to work hard to get to where I want to go. I admire that about her, and admire that she does it all to support the community and all her students and I know that is why I am here today. I want to continue to get educated and continue to learn to affect positive change in the world like Ms. Mullen.
Talk about the AVID Alumni Association; what do you hope to accomplish?
The mission is to provide a network of support for all AVID students and to connect them in ways that enhance their academic and professional success in a global society. This is meant to meet the needs of the students after we’ve gotten them through high school. I hope to continue to work collaboratively with AVID Center and universities to accomplish our four objectives. The first is to create a soft landing, which is about having our alumni feel welcome when they step onto campuses. Next, we want to provide a smooth journey, so as they take on these college expectations we want them to have support and connect them in ways that will allow them to support each other together when they encounter tough times. The third is a prosperous launch—this is about getting students connected and providing them with networks to professionals, whether they are AVID alumni or not. We want our AVID alumni to find opportunities for job shadowing, internships, or mentorships so that upon graduation, they are equipped with experience and hands-on training to be competitive for the workforce. The final goal, which is probably one of the most powerful, is the opportunity to make an enduring contribution. We hope to create a platform for students to give back to their communities, to AVID, and others.
At this time we have established 9 chapters. I have to give credit to the Alumni who are leading the Alumni chapter launches at these universities. Overall, in collaboration with AVID alumni and institutions of higher education, we will have the capacity to increase persistence rates and promote long-lasting success for our AVID alumni. (You can keep up with the latest from the AVID Alumni Association on Facebook!)
As an AVID Teacher/Coordinator, how does your AVID experience help you manage and affect the lives of your students?
My own experience was about never giving up, even after attempt after attempt, challenge after challenge. As an AVID Elective teacher, I have to make sure that even when my students don’t succeed at first, it is my responsibility to support them, motivate them, and find the means for them to succeed. I’ll say, “let’s try something else,” “here’s some tools,” let’s go talk to the teachers, “yes this didn’t go well but here’s how we can fix it, there is hope.” My first-hand experience with failure and success helps me teach my students how to navigate hurdles. I also recognize that not every student has the same type or degree of adversity. As a teacher, I take these differences into consideration when supporting my students to meet them at different levels.