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'Average' Students Work Way to Excellence

Motivation is the method in a program for teens with mediocre grades. It's run by a teacher who has been there, and the goal is nothing short of academic gold.


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, among other things, 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 going to 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 schools for more than 10 years, this is its first year at Buena Park and Fullerton high schools. The students spend about an hour each morning in the elective class.

With each year in high school, the students will learn to set goals, choose the right classes in preparation for college, become organized, manage time wisely, learn test-taking strategies and get tutorials from local 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 tutorials, writing exercises or impromptu question and answer sessions on various subjects.

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.

"They were very supportive, but they always [believed that] as long as the teacher didn't call, I was doing well in school," Martinez said.

Fortunately, her favorite basketball coach helped her get a grasp on SATs, the importance of grades and the endless array of college applications.

Now Martinez, with bachelor's and master's degrees and plans for a doctorate, is trying to do the same for her students.

On a typical Thursday morning, students are sitting in clusters helping one another with algebra, Spanish and Earth science lessons. Although the classroom is noisy, the teenagers are seriously going about the business of learning.

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.

Like Martinez and many other students in the class, Clemente's family is from Mexico and she would be the first to attend college in her family.

Her parents "don't want me to go through what they did, and they want me to have a career when I grow up," she said during a quick break from her speech and debate lesson.

Martinez is looking forward to welcoming two classes of AVID freshmen next year. The school will double the program's size.

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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