CHANDLER, AZ - Lizette Daniel and Carlos Villegas are looking forward to college. After all, they've certainly earned it.
The two signed up for the AVID program at Hamilton High School in Chandler and have not looked back.
"It's taught me to be a different person," said Villegas, who is now beginning his senior year.
"I've learned to face any challenges that come my way," she said.
Challenges are plenty in the AVID program, which has found a home at schools in Chandler, Mesa and Phoenix.
AVID is an acronym for Advancement Via Individual Determination, and aims to take students in the "academic middle," to new heights.
These are students who are not considered gifted, but are not poor performers.
On paper, they're average.
"We prepare them for college by supporting them in rigorous classes on campus," explained teacher Jessica Hogan.
Some students begin as early as middle school, others enter after they transition to high school.
"We recommend they spend at least three years in the program," added Hogan.
In Chandler, that recommendation has led to success.
Roseyn Hood, a secondary education specialist for the Chandler Unified School District points out that in 2010 82 percent of AVID student followed the three-year recommendation.
Out of those students, 100 percent graduated high school and 70 percent went on to in-state four-year institutions.
Compare that to overall state averages and the difference is substantial.
In 2007, the most recent years for which numbers are available, the high school graduation rate in our state was 68.2 percent.
That trails the national average which hovers at 68.8 percent.
In Phoenix, positive results are easy to spot.
In fact, Cesar Chavez High School is becoming a "demonstration school" for the AVID model "meaning the program is a leader among schools participating in AVID," explained Craig Pletenik of the Phoenix Union High School District in a written statement.
In that district, AVID was introduced in two schools during the 2007-2008 school year.
Since then, the program has expanded to 12 schools where 1,200 students have signed up to take the elective class.
But some of the success has not been as strong as in other districts.
According to Pletenik, in 2010, 80 percent of AVID students applied to four-year schools but only 48 percent were accepted.
However, during the first two years of the program, Pletenik points out that all 47 students were accepted to either two-year or four-year institutions.
"We believe these numbers are depressed a bit because of the economy and cost of college," added Pletenik.
Indeed, the cost of college is continuing to rise.
In some states, that means a 26 percent increase.
While many AVID students receive scholarships, it doesn't always cover the total cost.
Students from low income families who often excel in AVID may not have the resources to attend school or are forced to stay home and care for other family members.
The program can be pricey for districts.
Officials sign agreements with the AVID national office for materials and professional development, however the bulk of the cost is often covered by federal Title 1 dollars.
However with the federal budget the target of cuts and reductions, nobody knows for sure how the program will survive in the years ahead.
That doesn't seem to concern students Lizette and Carlos, they're just excited to graduate high school and begin college.
"Everything is just another trial and another obstacle we have to come across nomatter what," said an unshakable Daniel, who plans to pursue a degree in social work.
When asked what his parents thought about their first family member to attend college, Villegas, who plans to become a mechanical engineer, grew misty-eyed.
"They cry sometimes," he said. "The tell me they're really proud of me."
For more information on the program, visit the AVID website .