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Raising bars for students
AVID director among Daily Press Persons of the Year
Today we continue our 10-part series profiling some of the people who made a difference in 2012. Those profiled were nominated by Daily Press readers, with the finalists selected by the Daily Press staff.
APPLE VALLEY • In a region suffering from a lack of college-educated residents, Marty Ellingsen has been making a difference for the past 34 years.
A program director of the Advancement Via Individual Determination program at Granite Hills High School since 2005, Ellingsen has inspired students to reach their potential and get admitted to four-year colleges.
She’s taught more than 4,000 students in the High Desert, including her two sons, who aspire to be an educator. Her passion and contribution to local education earned her a nomination as a 2012 Daily Press Person of the Year.
Ellingsen came to the Victor Valley when she got a job at the Apple Valley Elementary District in 1979. She worked at Yucca Loma Elementary School, Apple Valley Junior High School and Vista Campana Middle School before her stint at Granite Hills.
“Marty works many, many extra hours beyond her regular duty day helping students get into college, finding funding to pay for school, and then continuing to counsel many of them while they are in college,” said Lance Arnt, her colleague at Granite Hills, in a nomination letter. “She is an energetic, selfless, optimistic, tireless promoter of an academic future for our students.”
Q: Why has the AVID program been so successful in producing college-bound students?
A: AVID is not magic, but I believe the secret for success in “ID” part of AVID — Individual Determination. These determined students are smart and just need encouragement, college awareness, strategies for organization and academic success. It is a team effort. ... But, again it all comes down to the students, many of whom have so little and make so much with it. They make no excuses and accomplish amazing grades and college admission. I can tell you story after story of kids who run home from school in the dark so they can tutor others or be involved in clubs or sports or have been in foster care. They are my inspiration.
Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
A: I have always enjoyed working with kids. I practiced on my little brother when I was younger and then started working with very impaired children, teaching them swimming. That look of glee on their faces has always been something that I never tire of seeing, no matter what age.
Q: What do you most enjoy about your job as the AVID coordinator?
A: It has been a gift for me, finding something that I am so passionate about, even later in my career. I love to watch them grow and mature in the program, to the point where they are standing up front and ringing the bell to share college admission with the class.
AVID is not about the program, it is all about the kids.
I also enjoy it when GHHS grads come back and speak to the AVID classes about their experiences. It is one thing to hear about it from their teachers, but when they hear it from students who were just like them, it makes a huge difference. ... The mom in me needs to make sure they are OK and they need to show me that they are successful. My first class of seniors gifted me with the title of the AVID DIVA, which is AVID backwards. I wear it proudly.
Q: What personal qualities have helped you become a successful educator?
A: No. 1 — A wonderful husband and sons who understand that my job is not just a job; it is my life 365 days a year. No. 2 — I think that kids can tell if you like them. I am not there to be their friend, but it sure makes my job easier if they trust me. I am very honest and open about my life, my success and my failures. I love to laugh with my students and they will all tell you that I am a story teller.
Q: How important is it for local high schools to increase the number of students striving to attend four-year college?
A: In these tough economic times, it is imperative that young people have as many “tools in their employment kits” as possible. Many students feel that they can’t afford it and quit before they even explore their options.
Every student does not need to go to college, but they need the best training possible and a plan. They forecast that the current generation will have at least four different careers (many in careers that we don’t even understand yet) and work until they are at least 70.
One in 10 high school grads have a job right now and one in two college grads are employed in their fields. Not great, but students need to think about the future and how they can be prepared and flexible in order to change with the times.
Q: Do you have any tips that parents can use to help their children get into college?
A: Ask what programs their school has for college awareness. Take them to visit a college or even walk around the campus — it helps make a dream more of a reality. College is always an eye-opener for students to a bigger world.
Realize that not every student is going to know exactly what they want to do, but believe me, they will discover it within their first year. Rigor, (especially senior year) counts so much in today’s college admission requirements, so a four-year plan is very important. It has become increasingly difficult to earn admission, and the students who are getting into the college of their choice are taking extra of everything and playing sports, or other extra-curricular activities, like a job, volunteering, church youth group.
Colleges like to see students who have demonstrated that they know how to balance rigorous coursework and extra-curricular participation. There is not one-path fits all for every student. Programs like AVID surround students with peers who have the same goal and provide support for both students and parents.
The cost of college is very intimidating and student load debt is a huge problem. Yes, most students and parents may have loans, but ask for help. However, remember — “Never pay money to get money.” We can help parents and students with the process and scholarships. Like it or not, the cost of college will end up determining which college the students choose.
Q: What’s one accomplishment in your life you are most proud of?
A: I am very proud of my family and my extended AVID family. I am glad I stayed in the High Desert; it has allowed me to work with wonderful people and students. It is all about friends and family and doing what you love with those you respect and care about.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say, anything you’d like to get off your chest?
A: All it takes for a student to be successful is one person who asks them about their day, homework or problems. Someone who gives students encouragement.
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