Marciano Flores was the teacher speaker at one of this year’s Summer Institutes in San Diego, CA. Below is his speech as prepared.
When I think about the way to student success, there isn’t so much a way as there is an attitude: individual determination!
I currently teach at my alma mater, East Bakersfield High School (EBHS). In my old neighborhood, I find not much has changed. When I attended EBHS in the 80s, very few of our graduating seniors went off to four-year universities. Many of us wanted to go to college and were encouraged to do so. However, knowing your destination and mapping the way to success are very different. The one, huge difference between then and now is AVID.
In 2009, I was recruited by my mentor, Lee Vasquez—newly appointed principal at EBHS—to come over as coordinator/teacher. His goal: Become the first AVID National Demonstration high school in Kern County within four years. No pressure! Still, I accepted the challenge willingly. Finally, it was a chance to grow a program with the full support of the administration, counseling, and a strong AVID team; only the kids would benefit the most. In 2013, EBHS did indeed become the first AVID National Demonstration School in the Kern High School District. What that meant to East High was a validation of our college-readiness attitude. It highlighted for our community that our students (both AVID and non-AVID) were finding the road to college and were skilled enough to navigate it themselves.
There is no better feeling than seeing, almost immediately, the fruits of your labor with your AVID students. The way to student success is riddled with convenient pit stops. When you are there to see these students look back and realize how many obstacles they’ve overcome, their empowerment is palpable.
One example comes to mind: I met “Andrea” as she entered my freshman AVID class. She was bright, eager, and a seasoned AVID student, having taken AVID in middle school. I learned very quickly that beneath her rough exterior, she had the heart and mind of an academic. Still, the influences of our neighborhood began to show very soon—with the local Chicana girl gang pressuring her to join, even lead them. They, too, recognized her potential. We weathered this issue together, with Andrea coming to me frequently to share stories and ask for guidance. Ultimately, she stayed on track, and her acquaintances left her alone without incident. Her junior year influence was much more formidable: boys! And she did not handle this new challenge very well.
Andrea found refuge from a lonely home life with a neighborhood boy. Sadly, his influence tore her further away from her family. Although some compromise was attempted, it failed miserably the night her boyfriend and his friend physically assaulted her father. In the melee, she left home with the boy, and then he left her. She slept in the park that night and many others, until her friends took her in. Her reconciliation with her mother began slowly, but progressed very well over the next few months.
Individual determination moves both ways: positively and negatively. Her late junior year, Andrea met another boy, and long story short, a baby was on the way. She visited me and her counselor to determine what her senior year would look like. She wanted to keep her AP® classes, as well as her AVID class. Knowing that the next months would bring many changes and struggles, she accepted the challenges without equal. Her beautiful baby girl was born November of her senior year, after submitting all her college applications. I was amazed when she notified me that she was taking only three weeks off from school in order to begin the second semester on time. Further, she fought to keep all three of her AP classes and AVID, albeit in a modified class schedule. In the end, Andrea graduated with honors, a 3.5 GPA, and was admitted to four of five schools. She currently attends Cal State Bakersfield.
As an AVID teacher, we are the guide-on-the-side, the coach, the gym trainer for our students. For many of our students, their way to success begins with the path to survival. Countless times, we become the surrogate father, uncle, or to some extent, their friend, when it is needed most. Clearly, all these roles are supportive in nature—roles where we do not and cannot do the things for the students, but enable and empower them to do it for themselves. They are individually determined to see their way to success, and I am proud to be a part of it.
For more on AVID, visit http://avid.org/what-is-avid.ashx.