Saturday, August 18, 2018
Education

Going the extra mile pays off for Pasco student

DADE CITY

For Sergio Contreras, 17, success is all about choices — the ones you make and sometimes, the ones others make for you.

Three years ago the thought of going to college seemed an elusive goal for a kid who had spent his formative years skating through middle school and his summers picking watermelons.

Even so, Sergio knew he didn't want to spend his future toiling in the fields as a migrant worker or laboring on a construction site for an uncle who had started his own business. And he didn't want to end up like his dad or other family members who were doing jail time.

"I have family that are hard-working and some who made bad decisions," Sergio said. "I wanted to make a different path."

Opportunity tapped him on the shoulder in his freshman year when Sergio was one of 50 students selected to participate in a new college readiness program at Pasco High called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

Now as Sergio finishes up his junior year, he has been tapped once again to share the story of the success he experienced through the program when he steps up to the podium as a student speaker at the AVID Center 2014 Summer Institute in Tampa in July.

AVID is an elective program founded in 1980 by Marie Swanson, an English teacher in San Diego who wanted to assure success for all students after desegregation brought a host of under-served students to her high-performing high school. Now AVID is in more than 4,500 schools in nearly 900 districts across the country. In Pasco County, AVID programs are up and running at Pasco and Ridgewood High schools with plans to expand to other Zephyrhills High and Pasco and R.B. Stewart Middle schools.

AVID places a high emphasis on study skills. Students who enroll must fill out an application, submit a writing sample and sit for an interview. Once accepted, they sign a contract promising to fulfill a number of tasks such as maintaining a minimum 2.5 GPA, enrolling in college-prep courses, preparing for and taking college entrance exams, going on college tours and participating in community service.

"It's a program for those middle-of-the-road students whose parents might not know how to navigate the system," said Mignon Edwards, coordinator of Pasco High's AVID program. "It gives them a step up — helps them with a variety of skills: writing, thinking, collaborating, organization, reading and study skills."

Students must be willing to push themselves, said Edwards, acknowledging that only 16 students out of the original 50 in the primary class are still enrolled in AVID. A promising note, Edwards said, is the 23 AVID students in this year's sophomore class and 25 freshman who have signed on with more on the waiting list.

"As we have grown, we learned what we did right, but also what we needed to change," Edwards said. "In the beginning we hand picked students we thought were right for the program, but we realized that students had to be self motivated. They have to want this for themselves. They have to want to go that extra mile."

Sergio proved he was more than willing. When the opportunity came for students to participate in a speaking contest for AVID's summer institute, Edwards encouraged him to give that a shot.

"He has always been a quiet leader," Edwards said. "He always did his work. He was always one to say to the other students, 'Step it up.' "

Word came after spring break that Sergio had been selected as a finalist after writing an essay outlining his experience and submitting a taped speech.

"The program is like a second family that has brought personal growth for me," Sergio said. "Freshman year was really hard because I didn't know how to study. I earned mostly B's and C's. AVID taught me how to improve my study habits, how to take proper notes. It teaches you to give yourself to the teacher, to come to class with an empty cup.

"You have to have some determination. You have to want to do something with yourself. You have to surround yourself with people who are willing to work and make themselves better because those people's drives will make your drive better."

Sergio now has an A/B average. He takes honors classes that he once thought were too tough for him and is a member of the school's HOSA and Interact Clubs. Summer plans include dual enrollment classes at Pasco-Hernando State College. He is slated to join the Health Academy at Pasco High for his senior year and is determined to graduate with a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) certificate in hand. He also hopes to attend the University of South Florida — another step in realizing his dream of becoming a physical therapist.

It's all kind of amazing, Sergio said as he reflected on the last few years. "In freshman year I thought, 'How am I going to graduate?' Now I'm almost finished — it's like wow."

Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

TAMPA — The paint on Pinnacle Hall’s white-and-gold walls still smelled fresh as Lilly Myskey led a parade of parents and bins and bags down the hall toward her new room at the University of South Florida. "Speaking of the building being brand-new, L...
Published: 08/17/18
Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

A sophomore at University High School in Volusia County was denied lunch on her first day of school Tuesday because she owed 15 cents, according to WKMG in Orlando.The girl’s mother, Kimberly Aiken, told WKMG a cashier in the school’s lunchroom threw...
Published: 08/16/18
Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Hernando County School Board District 5 incumbent Susan Duval seconded the motion to fire superintendent Lori Romano on June 12. And that’s why Joe Santerelli said he filed to run against her about a week later.A week after that, the local pastor spo...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

As Hernando County School Board member Beth Narverud makes her run for a spot on the County Commission, three hopefuls are running to fill her District 3 seat.One is Jimmy Lodato, a Tampa native and 19-year Hernando resident. Retired from a career in...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Mark Johnson was elected to the Hernando County School Board in 2014. He said his successful track record, combined with local business savvy, make him the clear choice over Catherine "Kay" Hatch for the District 1 seat."It’s not just an opportunity ...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

TAMPA — Sammi Borosh sat Tuesday afternoon in one of those tiny chairs for kindergartners and looked across the table at four of her former teachers — and her eyes misted.Borosh said she loved those four ladies and she loved the school where they tau...
Published: 08/15/18
For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

Barbara Ojago saw her grandson’s first day back at school as the beginning of the end.Her grandson, Emea, will finish his senior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. But Emea returns to a school forever changed by a former student he pe...
Published: 08/15/18
Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Next school year, if all goes according to plan, two new programs will expand the slate of options for Pinellas County elementary students — a conservatory for the arts in Clearwater and a gifted center in Palm Harbor.The programs, which will go befo...
Published: 08/15/18
Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

BROOKSVILLE — Two months after firing superintendent Lori Romano, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday reviewed results of a second district-wide survey to evaluate her performance, finding that little changed from last year.Romano’s overall a...
Published: 08/15/18

Pasco schools don’t plan to move teachers over state scores

Florida school districts recently received their teachers’ state "value-added" scores, and some scrambled to reassign those who got poor marks out of schools in turnaround status.But Pasco County wasn’t one of them, despite state rules relating to pe...
Published: 08/15/18