AVID helps Culler students prepare for college

Culler Middle School students gained a glimpse of their future possibilities Oct. 20 during a special visit to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Eighth-grade students in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program traveled to campus for a full day of enrichment activities. They went on an official campus tour, attended a presentation by the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services (OASIS) and spoke with eight UNL students. They also talked with a faculty-staff panel during their field trip.
Culler students Rilya and Yasyah said the day was helpful from both educational and social standpoints. In addition to gaining knowledge about topics like time management, credit hours and academic workloads, students also learned about the energy of a college environment.
“I’ve been on campus several times, but this was the first time where I’ve had a more in-depth experience,” Rilya said. “It’s been really nice to meet people who go to school here.”
“It’s been fun today,” Yasyah said. “I like doing things with people I know, so today was good. I learned a lot of new things by going here.”
Amanda Beatty is an AVID elective teacher at Culler. She said it was important for students to realize they can accomplish many things with work ethic and determination in the classroom.
“The purpose of this field trip is to reinforce the foundation of AVID – the college and career readiness framework, which entails a balanced combination of rigorous academic learning, advocating for and supporting student agency and widening knowledge of opportunities available to our scholars,” Beatty said. “The field trip helps them visualize becoming college students, the panels are opportunities to see themselves in high academic settings, and the student connection will help them understand the hard work they are enduring now is absolutely worth it.”
Culler alum Kerra Russell watched with pride as Rilya, Yasyah and their classmates asked questions to UNL students and staff. Russell is senior associate director of OASIS and the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center at UNL. She was excited to see the next generation of successful Cougars during the day.
“When I first heard about this opportunity, I thought it sounded like it would be a lot of fun to have them here, and it’s been a blast,” Russell said. “It’s been great to interact with the students and see them here.”
Russell worked with Culler AVID Coordinator Mel Hernandez to arrange the campus visit. Russell attended K-12 classes at Lincoln Public Schools and had planned to become a lawyer after college. She graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in criminal justice.
Her career aspirations changed and she earned a master’s degree in educational administration from UNL in 2014. She joined the OASIS staff in 2015 and has moved up the ladder at the university.
Russell said it was important to help younger students feel like they belong in a college setting. Yasyah said he felt more confident about his future options after spending time touring UNL with his classmates.
“I didn’t feel awkward walking around campus,” Yasyah said. “There are a lot of people who look like me. There’s decent diversity here.”
Students spent a large portion of their day in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. The faculty-staff panel featured representatives from multiple UNL departments. They provided insights about the college application process and academic opportunities.
The Culler group ate lunch at a UNL dining hall before speaking with current Huskers. They listened as the diverse college panelists shared their stories. They are pursuing majors such as biochemistry, theater design and public relations.
Rilya said it was nice to hear UNL staff and students talk about their experiences. Culler students were able to ask a wide range of questions after the initial presentation.
“One big thing I learned today was that it’s okay to switch majors when you’re in college,” Rilya said. “Since I’m still in eighth grade I have no clue what I’m going to do for a career yet, but it’s nice to know that you can switch majors and still be okay in college. That was comforting to hear.”
Many AVID students have a goal of becoming the first in their family to graduate from college. School leaders select students in grades 6-12 for the program. They learn essential skills such as critical thinking, teamwork, reading, writing and building relationships through the AVID courses.
Russell felt Culler students gained a great deal from the calendar of activities. She hoped her status as a Culler alum could serve as an inspiration to current Cougars like Rilya and Yasyah.
“I heard a couple of the students mentioning that I went to Culler, and hopefully they see me as a familiar face,” Russell said. “Twenty-plus years ago I was in the same seat as they are now, so hopefully they see that the sky’s the limit for them. They have the ability to achieve anything.”

If you want to know more about the AVID program or nominate a student, visit our website at https://home.lps.org/curriculum/avid/

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Published: November 1, 2023, Updated: November 1, 2023

Culler Middle School students watch with interest as University of Nebraska-Lincoln panelists answer questions about college Oct. 20. Eighth-grade students in the AVID program took part in multiple activities during the day. Culler alum Kerra Russell holds a leadership position at UNL and helped arrange the campus trip for current Cougars.