When the school year started, the 66 seniors in a Shoemaker High School college-preparatory class called AVID set a goal for scholarship money earned — $2 million.

They were way off.

Those students hit the $2 million mark in February. With just less than a month to go before graduation, the scholarship money thermometer recently stood at nearly $2,240,000 and counting.

The elective class AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and is offered in all Killeen ISD high schools and middle schools.

Shoemaker AVID teachers Jemeka Summerhill and Central Hicks described a culture of high expectations that has gone far beyond the classroom.

Landen Gray, a Shoemaker senior headed to the University of Texas at Arlington with a track scholarship and lots of other offers, puts it this way: “It makes smart cool.”

This year’s Shoemaker High AVID seniors have benefited from the continuity of having Hicks and Summerhill as teachers all four years. The teaching pair tends to float between classes, sharing their insights with all.

Teachers and students describe a culture of support and celebration.

On a day this week when Gray was helping explain to touring middle school students the benefits of AVID, he explained a recent celebration.

He completed a food science course with a perfect 100. That’s reason for a class-wide “Yeahhhh.” The class regularly celebrates “A Days” when students report success.

Lists of honor roll students line the classroom walls. Names of students and colleges that have accepted their applications are taped on the wall outside the class and cutout gold medals show the scholarships offered.

The traditional AVID student enters secondary school in the academic middle. The curriculum introduces them to organizational skills like keeping a binder and planner and taking effective notes. It also pushes skills like research, public speaking and networking. Students also complete senior projects.

Summerhill was an AVID student and was a first-generation college student. She said her parents expected her to go to college, but didn’t know how to get there.

With the established SHS AVID tradition of achievement, Hicks said he tells students the first week of school there is no reason they can’t finish in the top 10 percent of their graduating class.

This year, the 66 AVID seniors at Shoemaker occupy five of the top 10 graduating senior spots, including the valedictorian.

Gray said when he started high school he had no clear concept of college.

“For a lot of our students, college is out there, but it’s not attainable,” Hicks said. “They don’t know the steps.”

At Shoemaker, AVID students turn in a scholarship application every week for a grade.

“They compete with each other,” Summerhill said. “We celebrate their academic successes and that pushes them to do well.”

Students learn to capture the scholarship applications that come in the mail and to go hunting for those that don’t.

“It’s rewarding,” said senior Aurion Cooper as she looked at the wall of expanding honors outside the AVID classes. “People walk by and see our accomplishments. I think younger students see how much we are getting for our hard work.”

“Last year, this seemed so distant,” said Jennifer Arriaza, another senior whose cutout silhouette is obscured by multiple college offers. “For my silhouette to look like that — I did not imagine this.” She is headed to the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Senior Kierra Lewis said she would be the first in her family to attend a four-year university. She had to decide which of the offers to accept.

“It was a tough decision to decide where to go,” she said. “That is pretty cool.”

Like their teachers and peers, the three seniors said AVID helped them on their pathway to college, but experiences in the classroom went deeper than academic achievement.

“It’s like a family,” said Lewis, who is headed to Texas State University. “We talk about deep topics, not just about school.”

“AVID has helped me grow as a person,” said Cooper, also headed to Texas State. “We come together as a family.”

The Shoemaker teachers pointed out that their AVID students routinely excel in other areas of school and that their achievements carry beyond the class and beyond high school.

As impressive as $2.2 million is, the real scholarship amount connected to Shoemaker AVID is much more.

“They bring in friends with questions all the time,” Hicks said. “We work together. That amount is just the students in AVID. It’s an amazing achievement. These students work hard. They are on their way and they have money.”

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