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'Average' Students Making Climb to Excellence


Sometimes it's the average or just below-average student who needs the most help, according to teacher Sylvia Martinez.

They have the potential but need motivation. And as one who has been there, Martinez knows what it takes to encourage about 37 freshmen at Buena Park High School to get excited about grades and college.

In addition to her own skills and experience, Martinez uses a program called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). Although the four-year elective program has been around in California for more than 10 years, this is its first year at Buena Park and Fullerton high schools. Students spend about an hour a day in the elective class.

With each year in high school, the students will learn to set goals, choose college prep classes, get organized, manage time, improve test-taking and get tutorials from college students. As the program coordinator, Martinez chose students from the eighth grade with grade-point averages in the 2.0 to 3.2 range and who had average scores on their Stanford 9 tests.

Buena Park Junior High also has an AVID program, and some students wanted to continue the class in high school. On Fridays, the students are likely to spend their class time on a field trip to an area college or listen to a guest speaker. The rest of the week is spent on more academic pursuits.

Ten years ago, the enthusiastic Martinez was a student at the same school where she now teaches. Although she had planned to attend college someday, details such as which classes to take and what's required to apply eluded her. Nobody in her family had ever attended college.

But her favorite basketball coach stepped in as a mentor. Now Martinez holds bachelor's and master's degrees and plans a doctorate.

With dreams of becoming a doctor, Priscilla Clemente, 15, has gone from Cs and Ds to A's and Bs. She credits the class and her parents for recent successes.

Martinez will welcome two classes of freshmen next year--the school will double the program.

Martinez hopes to instill her students with high expectations and get them involved in extracurricular activities.

"Our intent is by the time these kids get to their junior or senior year, they'll be enrolled in honors classes," she said.

Ana Cholo-Tipton can be reached at (714) 966-5890.

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