Bianca Perez sat alone with her little brother, waiting to receive her scholarship. It was just the two of them since her father had to work and her mother passed away two years ago. The Alhambra High senior headed to Cal State LA wore a sign saying "I am an AVID student" around her neck. It was both a symbol of pride and protest. The program that Perez credits with helping her to reach this success — Achievement Via Independent Determination, or AVID — will soon be eliminated for other students.
“AVID helps students who sort of need a push,” she said, as her younger brother played nearby. “Money is really tight for us, and it’s helped me to keep my grades up, which is how I get the financial aid and awards.”
The enrichment program focuses on students who fall in the academic middle and are often overlooked, offering them elective courses, mentoring, and one-on-one instruction. Its results are impressive: a 95 percent acceptance rate to four-year colleges for the students involved. Yet, it is soon to be the latest victim of budget cuts at Alhambra High School. The School Site Council recently voted to eliminate the program's funding at AHS citing budget constraints; it will continue at San Gabriel High School.
At the June Alhambra Unified School Board meeting, dozens of parents and students packed the room to show their support for AVID. Students went up one by one, sharing stories like Perez's of getting into college, attaining career-building skills, and disappointment about opportunities denied to younger students.
Teachers deplored the decision to cut the program, citing its impact on the achievement gap at AHS, especially that between Latino and Asian students who have had dramatically different graduation and college acceptance rates. "It is an abhorrent oversight with future catastrophic results for our Latino students and school," AHS teacher Jose Sanchez said.“Our Latino student graduation rates, A-G college readiness, involvement in student leadership and advanced placement/honors courses, etc. will plummet.”
But Superintendent Donna Perez is confident that AHS students will find success even after the program is removed. "We can't use the name AVID anymore," she said, "but we will still offer the exact same services to students."
Assistant Superintendent Gary Gonzalez said that it is a problem of trying to make the most out of what little funds have been left for education, not just in Alhambra, but in the entire country. "You have to look at how much money they give you, and then you have to start picking and choosing where you're going to get the most bang for your buck," he said. "We’ve been getting a smaller piece of the pie, and we have to do the same amount of work."
In relation to AHS's student population of more than 3,000, Gonzalez said AVID has simply become too costly to justify the less than 200 students it serves. The program costs more than $100,000 to run per year.
As a result, AVID will no longer be available to the next generation of AHS students, such as Bianca Perez's little brother Nelson. But that was not his focus last Tuesday night. At the board meeting — which included both the protests and the scholarship ceremony — when she went up to receive her award before a room crowded with Alhambra students, parents and teachers, Nelson cheered louder than anyone from his seat alone in the back row.