Monday, October 2, 2023

GHS senior becomes first in district history to receive Dell scholarship | AVID program main contributor to success


One simple class assignment has now changed the life of a Granbury High School senior forever.

When Victoria Rodriguez received the assignment from her AVID instructor Jason Shahan to fill out a Dell scholarship application, she didn’t think much of it at the time.

“I had very low expectations for this one,” she said, with a chuckle. “I knew it was a big scholarship, so I was like, ‘Oh, well, I guess I'll try it out, but I probably won't get it. I’ll just do it for the assignment.’”

Rodriguez and 36 of her classmates in the AVID senior class applied for the scholarship, with Rodriguez receiving the news that she was selected as a semifinalist in December.

But it wasn’t until spring break when she found out that she was named a Dell Scholar by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

“I woke up, checked my phone, and was like ‘Oh, there's an email, whatever,’” she said. “I was barely waking up. I thought it was a scam at first because there were a lot of emojis on (the email), and I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I don't know if I believe this,’ and so I had to scroll. I just saw ‘congratulations,’ and I was like, ‘What? I'm a little confused.’ I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t tell anybody until (Shahan) told the class.”

According to the corporation, Dell Scholars are highly motivated students who demonstrate the drive to succeed despite personal obstacles and candidates with a unique set of grit, potential, and ambition in their quest for a college education.

Rodriguez is one of the 500 scholarship recipients nationwide — and the first Granbury High School senior to receive one of the toughest and most prestigious national awards.

“It's so rare,” Shahan said. “They give 500 of them out per year throughout the entire United States, so you're talking thousands and thousands of applicants and there's 500 winners. So, I started researching to make sure I knew exactly what it entailed and what (Rodriguez) would receive from it. Then I started emailing (and asking) all the staff, ‘Does anybody know of any Dell scholarship recipients from Granbury High School?’ They all said ‘No,’ and some teachers have been here for 25-30 years. It started in 2004, so, I (told Rodriguez), ‘Well, if we go back 20 years, and there's not one, then that means you gotta be the first.'”

The scholarship program provides a $20,000 scholarship with an additional $500 each year to help cover the cost of textbooks and supplies. In addition, Rodriguez will be connected to a network of resources provided by the Dell Scholars program — a college completion and scholarship initiative of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation — where she will receive tutoring, financial, and emotional support services. She will also receive a new Dell laptop, with a five-year warranty.

Shahan said Rodriguez will also get to connect with a network of Dell scholarship recipients.


Since she was in the seventh grade, Rodriguez has been a member of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) — a program that has been a major contributor to her esteemed scholarship.

AVID was first created by a California teacher at Clairemont High School in San Diego named Mary Catherine Swanson in 1980. According to, the teachers there had low expectations for students bussed in from disadvantaged areas of San Diego, which caused a belief that those students could not succeed. However, Swanson believed that if students were willing to work hard, she could teach them the skills needed to be college-ready.

AVID’s mission is to close the opportunity gap by preparing all students for college and career readiness and success in a global society.

Today, AVID is implemented in more than 7,000 schools in 47 states across the U.S., plus schools in Department of Defense Education, Canada, and Australia. AVID impacts more than 2 million students in grades K–12 and 62 postsecondary institutions.

The AVID program was implemented in GHS in 2017 to provide students with the knowledge and skills they will need to excel in college.

"We use it as an elective class, but now it's grown so much that it goes beyond that,” Shahan said. “A lot of the teaching strategies that AVID has established go outside of that classroom, and they spread throughout the high school.”

Rodriguez was greatly inspired to join AVID after talking with the Granbury Middle School AVID teacher, Donna Dumas, adding that her favorite part about the class was her classmates.

"I got really lucky with every single class,” Rodriguez said. “I was very energetic, and so I would talk to everybody, and they would talk to me, so they made it more fun and enjoyable to talk more about college — especially in middle school.”

Unlike other elective courses, however, students must apply before being accepted into the AVID program.

"We're looking for first-generation students who don't have any college support or experience from home,” Shahan explained. “A lot of times they are low socioeconomic, or they could come from a household that might be split, where the parents are divorced. They have to have decent to good grades, and they need to be motivated.”

Shahan has been Rodriguez’s AVID teacher for the past four years, and definitely has a soft spot for the first AVID graduating class.

"When you teach the same kids for four years straight, they kind of become like your own children,” he said. “It's like a family atmosphere in that class, and that's the connectivity that so many other students don't get at school where they may have just two or three select friends, but they're not in the same class with them, and they're not working towards the same goals of going to college."


Rodriguez said she learned a lot in the AVID program over the years, like how to take Cornell notes and how to stay organized.

"We did a lot of college researching,” she said. “Without AVID, I don't think I would have been even looking into colleges right now.”

Since joining AVID in the seventh grade, students toured as many as eight college campuses — and even visited one college overnight.

“We did two per year, and they made it a goal themselves,” Shahan said. “A lot of things that we do in AVID are based on goals. We do goal setting all the time, and their freshman year, one of them just mentioned in class one day about how cool it would be for us to go on an overnight field trip. I said, ‘We can do it, but I'm not taking any freshmen or sophomores on an overnight field trip, so if y'all want to make it a goal to raise enough money to go by the time you’re seniors and you want to do that, you can,’ and so they did. They made it a goal. They had to meet a minimum expectation of how much money each one would need to raise by the time they were seniors, and they earned it. We drove all the way to Arkansas, and we stayed the night. On the way back, we stopped at Oklahoma State (University), so we got to see two major colleges in one trip.”

AVID students also volunteer for several community service projects, like Adopt a Highway, and Life Skills Prom.

"They all have a role of responsibility to play,” Shahan said, on the Life Skills Prom. “They plan it, they coordinate it, they execute it, and we bring the prom to school during the day. The feeling that they get from that is the most important thing. It's doing something selfless for somebody else without expecting anything in return, and despite all the work they put into it, they love it.”


Rodriguez has applied and been accepted at University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Stephen F. Austin State University, Tarleton State University, Houston Christian University, Texas Tech University, Texas Woman’s University, and Texas State University.

Although she has not yet decided where she will attend this fall, she is currently leaning toward becoming a Texan at Tarleton State University.

Shahan added that a requirement of his AVID students is to apply to at least four colleges.

“There's 36 of them who are seniors, and from those 36, they have over 125 college acceptances, so that averages out to about five per student,” he said. “And with this next board meeting, we'll be revealing how much they qualified for in scholarships. Between 36 of them, they've qualified for over $1.9 million in scholarships. There's still two or three of them who haven't made their decision, but out of the ones who have, we expect to accept $375,000 to $380,000 (of scholarships) that they will actually use so they're doing some really, really big things.”


In addition to her involvement in the AVID program, Rodriguez is also an active member of the Junior Optimist Club and Key Club. She recently earned an industry-based certificate in Floral Design through the Granbury High School CTE program.

She also works with elementary school students as a part-time aide in the extended school day (ESD) program at the STEAM Academy at Mambrino — a program that she also participated in when she was in elementary school.


Shahan added that he is super proud of Rodriguez not only for working hard, but also for overcoming adversity.

Rodriguez said she would like to thank her brothers — Ervey Valdez, Jesse Valdez, and Daniel Valdez — for never giving up on her.

“They raised me, so I felt like I had a lot of high expectations from them, and they motivated me to keep doing this,” she said. “Without their support, I probably wouldn't be here at all.”

Rodriguez is the daughter of Roberto Rodriguez and the late Amelia Saldana.

“I’m doing this because of (my brothers) and because of (my mom),” she added. “I’m so proud of myself, honestly.”


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