Friday, May 4, 2018

AVID Reaches Higher at UNC Celebration

A new tradition for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) students was born on April 24, in a tradition-steeped room of the Morehead Foundation on the UNC campus. The graduating seniors joined other AVID students, their teachers, Director of Equity Leadership and AVID, Dr. Sheldon Lanier and Superintendent Dr. Pam Baldwin as they formally declared their college intentions by signing their names to a document. The wood paneled walls and glittering chandeliers set the stage for a memorable occasion, but the formal event was followed by a Chick-Fil-A lunch in the adjoining sun room, with plenty of relaxed smiles all around.
“College signing day was an awesome event. As a senior, I really enjoyed the recognition of my accomplishments,” said Jimias Best, East Chapel Hill High senior.
The idea for the campus Commitment Day celebration was developed by a freshman Morehead-Cain Scholar, Mina Yakubu, who partnered with Missy Julian Fox, Director of First Look at UNC, to create a graduation ceremony that aligned with the national Reach Higher Initiative. In 2014, Michelle Obama held her first College Signing Day rally in Texas with 2,000 graduating high school students, as she announced the creation of Reach Higher. In four years, it has become a nationwide movement with participating schools in all fifty states.
Yakubu and Fox share similar visions and goals for expanding college access to underrepresented populations in this community. “Mina asked me to be the advisor and I happily agreed,” said Fox. “With my work and passion for getting kids to pursue a college degree, AVID is the perfect match. It is essential for institutions of higher education to play their role and create a pipeline to our public schools.”
Yakubu is one of 17 students serving on the advisory board of Obama’s Better Make Room/Reach Higher. Last year those students were invited to the White House to receive the First Lady’s message first hand: Go back to your schools and figure out how to get more of your peers thinking about college.
Yakubu said, “I planned this event because I want to further the mission of the organization to create a college-going, college-persisting culture in the community. In our first-year, I wanted to continue planning Commitment Day/College Signing Day events in Chapel Hill. I contacted Missy after learning about First Look. We met with Dr. Lanier to coordinate for the event. I am delighted with the outcome of months of planning, emailing for donations and finalizing details.”
“I had a wonderful time and I think it should continue to happen every year,” said Ingri Cruz Martinez from East. “One thing that I did love the most was the motivational videos they showed and that we were able to ask the college students questions about college.”
The AVID students heard from a panel of Yakubu and three other UNC freshmen and sophomores, all students of color, who spoke to the challenges of making their voices heard in predominantly-white institutions. Chris Suggs, co-chair of the Black Student Movement’s first year council, said that his college choice came down to UNC and Howard University. “I found it’s important to stay true to yourself and get involved on campus. Right away.” He said it’s helpful to find a team, an organization on campus, as soon as students make their college choices. “Follow their social media, get to know the members.” He said that UNC students reached out to him before he even arrived in Chapel Hill, asking how they could help him settle in.
Marcella Pansini, another Morehead-Cain freshman, described how much she worried about campus social life, having come from a school where “I grew up with the same 100 people.” She said she wasn’t prepared for how big the UNC campus is, but she soon joined the Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Outreach Board, and signed on to be a First Look tour guide, providing campus experiences for middle school students.
All of the panelists urged the AVID students to pay attention to self-care during that crucial first year in college - and to seek out mentors early, both on faculty and older students. “Use your professor’s office hours,” was a message repeated by several.
Superintendent Baldwin congratulated the graduates, and Dr. Lanier spoke briefly to the seniors, saying, “AVID Scholars, congratulations to all of you. I’ve seen you grow since I came to the district when you were in 9th grade.”
“The AVID college signing day was a great experience for me,” said Tara Thompson of East. “Being a Junior and watching that really inspired me because I know next next year I'm going to be in that same seat, signing to the college that I'll be at in the prime years of my life. I really enjoyed being able to see other seniors in AVID programs in surrounding schools as well, and see just how important and helpful AVID can be for other students.”
The underclassmen spoke later about the value of attending the event. “I learned a lot from the panel,” said one student. “They explained how we shouldn’t procrastinate - that college is not a joke - you just keep your head up.”
Dr. Lanier noted later, “I am extremely proud of their accomplishments and the young adults they have grown to become. They are a true testament to the power of AVID.”

Click here to view Michelle Obama’s message for 2018 College Signing Day.