Education Column: Investing in Student Success
By Julie Faryniarz
“It was the first time I really felt noticed and that someone knew I had potential and actually thought I could do it,” explained Destiny when she was selected to complete an application for the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. As an 8th grader attending Central Middle School, Destiny hoped to enroll in the new elective course at Greenwich High School (GHS), made possible by a grant from the Greenwich Alliance for Education.
As the Executive Director of the Greenwich Alliance for Education (the Alliance) for the past 10 years, I have had the true pleasure of knowing that we are helping to expand the educational experience of thousands of students like Destiny and through our grants, we are supporting the work of many innovative and dedicated educators.* AVID, one of our first Reaching Out Grants back in 2009, helps address the achievement/opportunity gap by helping students who perform in the academic middle and who demonstrate the will to improve their academic performance and go to college. I recently interviewed Destiny about her experience to understand how AVID as well as other programs funded by the Alliance have helped her grow over the years.
After Destiny was selected to participate in the AVID Class of 2014, she and her father proudly signed her acceptance contract with her AVID teacher Ken Alcorn, a Greenwich Public School (GPS) distinguished teacher. This was his first time teaching AVID and, like his twenty-four students, he grew and learned with them from their freshman through their senior year. Destiny describes Mr. Alcorn as a methodical support system, always accepting of who she was while building her confidence to do better. His AVID classroom offered a comfortable place to regroup with the same classmates each day, as they together navigated the pressures and challenges of high school to become a first-generation college bound student. Destiny credits AVID for teaching her advocacy, the importance of making connections with her teachers, and building her self- confidence to express ideas and collaborate with peers.
During the summer before senior year of high school, Destiny enrolled in the AVID College Workshop, organized by Mara Subach, GHS Guidance Counselor and AVID Site Coordinator, and funded through a grant from the Alliance. Destiny successfully completed the workshop and clearly remembers the day she arrived in AVID class and was told “we are applying to college today.” Having visited Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) with AVID, she knew where she would apply.
The AVID Class of 2014 celebrated with their teachers, their families, GPS leadership, and many elected officials at a special AVID Graduation Party, sponsored by the Alliance. All twenty-four members of Destiny’s class were accepted to college.
Through the Greenwich Alliance’s Mentoring Program, when Destiny arrived at ECSU, she was matched with her mentor, Amy Fleishman. Amy helped her navigate through the complexities of college by offering her a listening ear, support, guidance, and solutions to course issues. When college became overwhelming, Amy was able to help keep her on task with her goal of graduating with a degree in social work. Amy also encouraged Destiny to apply to the Greenwich Alliance Scholarship Fund for tuition assistance, which “lifted a huge burden and provided her with financial relief.”
Destiny received her college diploma from ECSU in May 2018. Her involvement in various volunteer opportunities and internships related to social work helped her land her first job in the field. She said she, “leaves her job everyday satisfied knowing people are getting the help that they need.” Destiny plans to enroll in an MSW program to become a forensic social worker.
When asked to reflect on her experience as an AVID student, she is grateful to Mr. Alcorn, Ms. Subach, Dr. Winters, Mrs. Fleishman, her AVID classmates, and especially the Alliance, for making this program possible and for the foundation it gave her to grow as a person. She hopes she can now be a resource for other AVID students as they begin their life journey.
The Alliance funded the implementation of AVID at GHS in 2008 and later at Central and Western Middle Schools. AVID students are often the first generation in their family to attend college, from single parent households, from homes where English is not the first language spoken, and from families on the low socio-economic range. We have invested nearly $600K in AVID and have received grant funding from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. GPS have identified AVID as an achievement gap closing strategy and budget for the majority of the program costs. The Alliance continues to fund professional development for the talented AVID Elective teachers and support staff and other AVID classroom program needs.
Julie Faryniarz is the Executive Director, of the Greenwich Alliance for Education.