Arizona 5th-Graders Get a Peek at College Life from Williams

The Dean’s Office got a nice surprise this fall in the form of a hefty envelope from Mesa, Ariz., filled with letters from Lowell Elementary School fifth-graders who had plenty of questions about life at Williams.

“Do you offer scholarships? Because I want to be a scientist and to make my mom and dad really happy,” wrote one student. “I really like school, so I hope I would be smart when I get to college,” wrote another.

“I read through most of the letters, and quickly realized that (the students) would have a great connection with our first-gen students,” says Associate Dean Rosanna Reyes. She brought the package to the first-gen student advisory board; they decided individual replies were definitely in order.20151030_085256 (1)

The letter-writers at Lowell are in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. Run by a global nonprofit, the program is implemented in schools all over the world and helps students prepare for college via research-based classroom programming. Students are held to high academic standards, and it’s understood that they’re planning to attend college.

“Most of my students’ parents are young and do not speak English,” says Francine Doane, the English language development teacher at Lowell who coordinated the letters (in fact, one student’s letter included a brief Spanish translation). Many will be the first in their family to attend college.

Reyes and the advisory board matched each letter with a Williams student. Katherine Nunez ’16 designed postcards with Williams scenery, and each student at Lowell was sent a personal reply from a first-gen student at Williams, along with a purple cow patch and purple cow sunglasses. One Williams student typed a two-page letter with the heading “Brian: Don’t be Afraid to be Awesome!”

First-Generation Initiatives Student Coordinator Velia Alejandra Moran ’17 said she wanted to write to her fifth-grader “in a way that would make her feel good.”

“I think (AVID) is a great program,” she said. “A lot of students don’t realize college is within their reach.”

When Doane heard that each of her students would receive an individual reply, “it literally brought me to tears,” she said. “My students are amazing and they have few opportunities, so being college-ready is our mission.”

“Getting a physical letter—that’s just big. That means a lot,” said Moran. Telling these students that they can accomplish great things if they keep working hard, she said, reinforces their mission—and it means “there are people out there who are expecting great things of you,” she said.