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Leading the way: South Washington Alternative High School has first college-bound AVID student

Delaney Bourgoin, 18, of St. Paul Park is the first student from the AVID program at South Washington Alternative High School to be accepted to a four-year university. (Submitted photo)

Delaney Bourgoin has become the face of Advancement Via Individual Determination at South Washington Alternative High School. Or the first face, anyway.

The 18-year-old St. Paul Park senior is the first student from the school's AVID program to be accepted to a four-year university. Not only that, but she received a $12,000 scholarship.

And her soon-to-be alma mater recently became one of only six alternative high schools in Minnesota that have been identified as an AVID certified site.

The AVID program targets the often overlooked "academic middle" who might muster an A and a couple of B's in their classes but often earn C's. With AVID, they're pushed to improve their class ranking as well as their predicted score on the ACT standardized college entrance test.

Gaining admittance to the AVID club took students and staff at South Washington Alternative High School a year of planning and two years of training and integration, Principal Mike Mahaffey said.

"We fight so hard to get these kids graduated, but are we preparing them?" he said. "When the AVID hit the district, I said, 'Can we get in on this?'"

Bourgoin, who will study animation at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, said the AVID curriculum focused on collaborative learning and better note taking. Crucially, it also drilled her in the practical aspects of applying to college.

"Really, we focused a lot on finding colleges and how to apply to them," she said. "We've talked a lot about moving out and finanical aid and figuring out all the questions you can and trying to answer them. It's helped a lot."

If Bourgoin and her fellow seniors can be said to have one thing in common, it's that their journey involved a few bumps in the road. Bourgoin transferred to the alternative high school after encountering difficulties at Park High School.

Students in School District 833 can be referred to the alternative high school if they struggle at Woodbury, Park or East Ridge high schools. Because of its smaller class size, teachers at the alternative high school can provide students with more personalized attention.

Bourgoin credits teachers and AVID coordinators Anne Piasecki and Katie Harmeyer for their guidance.

"It was kind of hard and scary," she said. "It was also different. My main thing was to go to AVID because I wanted to go to college."

Harmeyer, who also teaches English at the school, said they want AVID to prevent a boomerang effect.

"Former students reach out to me and they need help with papers," Harmeyer said. "I think this will help them get to the next step and take responsibility for their own education."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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