BRIGHT FUTURES — See how Memorial High’s AVID class is setting students on paths of possibilities

Published 12:40 am Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The walls of Memorial High School’s AVID class are filled with copies of college acceptance letters. Each belongs to one of the 15 seniors in the program. Most of the students have more than one; some have more than five. One of the students has received more than $1 million in scholarships, while another was awarded $80,000 due to her grade point average.

Three of the students are among the top 15 percent of their class.

And all of them juggle academics, extracurriculars and work.

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“The AVID class is really a way of life, teaching these kids how to navigate school,” Instructor Carla Stewart said. “It is a program that teaches our kids all of the skills and habits that they need to navigate school successfully so that, at the end, they can have a choice. These doors are wide open. And that’s exactly what these students have done.”

Advance Via Individual Determination was created in 1980 by an educator who realized minority and economically disadvantaged students were not able to navigate through school as well as others.

“The AVID program is not sympathetic to their circumstances; it is empathetic,” Stewart said. “It understands that maybe they have certain circumstances and that their deck of cards have not been fair. But it shows them that, regardless, the world keeps turning and you can be here, too, if you’re willing to be self-disciplined, self-controlled, academically.”

The class focuses on study habits, organization, note taking, setting goals, accepting responsibility, respecting but also exuding authority, and understanding that success comes from more than just academics.

AVID instructor Carla Stewart explains the program’s learning model. (Monique Batson/The News)

“Most of these students have been in here for four years developing skills for life,” Stewart said. “They call it more than just an academic class. It is skills they can use for the rest of their lives.”

For Madison Edwards, the course has helped her with more than just a career.

“I’ve calmed down a lot with my attitude,” she said. “Sometimes I do have my little outbursts, but it’s not like when I started in tenth grade. I’m very calm and collected now.”

Edwards will be attending Prairie View A&M University for nursing.

Joining her at Prairie View will be Lindsey Jones, who plans to study psychology.

“Mental health isn’t talked about in my family a lot, especially with kids,” she said. “So I want to be there to at least give someone an outlet when they feel they need someone to talk to, and they feel like they have someone who will actually listen.”

Jamya Stevenson will major in criminal psychology, general psychology and biochemistry.

“It was something that connected to my personal life that developed in a way for me to help others,” she said.

Stevenson has received more than $1.4 million in scholarships, and was nominated for the Congress of Future Medical Leaders Award of Excellence by 2007 Nobel prize winner Mario Capecchi.

Her classmate Brianna Walker received an $80,000 scholarship for her grade point average. She plans to become a computer science major with a focus on graphic design.

And Karelia Walter has turned her hobbies into a passion and career.

“I watch a lot of murder mystery TV, and I always liked how they do it,” said the senior who will study forensic chemistry. “How murders leave evidence without knowing, and we can bring the family and everyone justice.”

Antonio Dilworth will begin his first semester at Lamar University breaking a mold.

He has a full ride for cheerleading.

“It’s kind of been surreal because I’ve only been doing cheer for a year,” he said. “And I hate saying it like this, but I’m one of the most sought after recruits when it comes to cheer. Because of me, Lamar is able to compete advanced next year.”

Meivy Garcia goes over a grade analysis form. (Monique Batson/The News)

Meivy Garcia also achieved the admirable, having arrived in the U.S. in fifth grade with no knowledge of English. She’s now in the top 15 percent of her graduating class, and will enter the medical field.

“That tells you that you can do whatever you put your mind to,” Stewart said. “It’s hard work, but it can be done. She’s been in all AP classes.”

Also entering the medical field will be Jermey Houston, who intends to become a cardiologist.

“In my family, all of us are nurses or doctors and no one had a specific role they wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to go beyond that and become a cardiologist or pediatrician because I work well with kids while I work at the school. So I said I’m going to strive to be very successful and strive to become a cardiologist. I know that it might take long, but I’m going to get there.”

And Karla Estupinan will combine her children and the medical field to become a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“The tenth and eleventh graders come in the same room and see the Wall of Fame,” Stewart said while pointing to the dozens of acceptance letters stemming strictly from this school year. “These seniors are role models. They have more than one acceptance; they have opportunity. So what’s really important right now is that they know how to walk through the door and stay there and graduate.”

And while AVID is offered to Port Arthur Independent School District middle school students, it’s a class Stewart hopes more young people will join.

“It’s a program to me that is underutilized,” she said. “There are 15 seniors in here. We have hundreds of kids on this campus.”