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I Am The Difference

By Viridiana Martinez, AVID Alumna

Viridiana Martinez was a student speaker at one of this year’s Summer Institutes in San Diego. Below is her speech as prepared. You can also watch her speech!

AVID’s mission is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society. 

But AVID was way more than that for me.  It was more than just a college prep class.  I think of my AVID cohort as a family, a family full of crazy cousins, annoying brothers, and high achievers.  Even though it’s a crazy family, we are always there to support each other and motivate each other to succeed.

We had the same teacher for four years, Mrs. Praggastis.  Some people might think that is weird, but by having the same teacher, she became our second mom, there to cheer us on, but also to reprimand us if needed.  Without AVID, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I am positive I would not know how to navigate the wave of information to get me to college. 

When I look back at what we learned in AVID – first and foremost, we learned how to be responsible young adults.  We learned how to advocate for ourselves and know when we needed to ask for help. 

The strategy that helped me the most was the AVID binder.  I remember thinking, “ugh – it’s a pain to carry one huge binder.”  But what I soon realized is that everything was in one place and I was organized.  I would watch other students fish through their backpacks and feel bad for them when they couldn’t find their assignments.  And, I never go without my day planner. 

Then, there were the Socratic seminars. It was in the AVID classroom where I discovered that I didn’t have to believe or agree with everything I read or was told. I could formulate my own thoughts, do research and have an opinion. Learning how to discuss the topic and listen to others is a tool I will take with me into the business world.   In addition, we had guest speakers and toured colleges, and Mrs. Praggastis made the AVID environment a place where we were treated as independent learners.  We were expected to get involved in our community, so I signed up for National Honors Society and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah.  Mrs. P. encouraged me to take honors, concurrent and AP® classes, which were supported by the tutorial sessions where we learned how to think critically.   

Life for my family was not always easy.  There was domestic violence in my home.  My mom made the decision to leave and raise my sister and me on her own, but we soon became homeless, living in shelters off and on for six years.

My freshman year, my home life was chaos.  We had just moved into a small apartment when my mom lost her job, and we were at risk of becoming homeless again.  My sister told my mom that she would talk to Mrs. Praggastis to see if she could help.  I wondered to myself, “Why would a teacher care what happens to us?  We are just there to fill seats in her class.”  I was very wrong. 

Mrs. P. did everything in her power to help us and make sure that we had a roof over our heads.  She was there to comfort my whole family and ensure we were safe.  She not only became my favorite teacher but my own rock of stability.

For many years, I didn’t have anything stable in my life, knowing I could lose my family, my home, my belongings and everything I valued, at any moment.  But I could always trust that Mrs. P would be there when I needed her, she was my safety net.

Even though I had obstacles to overcome in my personal life, for a few hours each day, I could forget about my problems and focus on school.  School was the one place where I could determine the outcome, the place where I would not worry about anything but trying my hardest.

I decide to do my homework.  I decide to study for a test.  I decide to succeed.  Outside of school, what was happening in my personal life was not up to me, but I needed to know I had control somewhere, and my academic life at school was where I felt empowered.

When I was homeless, I had to learn to deal with uncertainty.  That same uncertainty in life is what motivated me to decide I not only wanted to go to college - but I needed to go to college.  I did not want to live my life always worried about how I would survive.  I know a good career can help ensure me a life far away from being homeless or living with other people, always feeling like a burden, and wondering each day where I would find shelter and food.

So, this is where AVID filled the void for me.  In AVID, my achievements were celebrated, my hardships were acknowledged and I was allowed to discover who I was meant to be.  I had stability which, in turn, provided me with an environment focused on learning. Most importantly, AVID was something I could trust.  I am going to college and have been offered a full ride to study Environmental Science at Westminster College.  It’s not a dream anymore – it will soon be my reality.

AVID taught me that I am in charge of my future.  I will always remember Mrs. P telling us that AVID was the place where I was expected to become the person I was destined to be, to be confident with myself, and if I put my mind to something and worked hard, it would be achieved.  My future will consist of what I have learned from AVID: confidence, leadership, and great expectations.  Thank you AVID, Mrs. Praggastis, my mom and sister for making the difference in my life.  I am the difference.



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