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More Local At-Risk Students Are Graduating From High School On Time, Enrolling And Thriving In College

More Local At-Risk Students are Graduating from High School on Time, Enrolling and Thriving in College

At Westminster High School, ground-breaking program supported by United Way’s Destination Graduation initiative is graduating 100 percent of its participants, nearly all moving on and succeeding at four-year colleges

Westminster, CA – Recent published studies have shown that Orange County high school graduation rates have surpassed the 90 percent mark, tops among like-sized counties in the state.

Key to the findings has been strong increases in the graduation rates among students with disadvantaged backgrounds (those living in poverty, English-learners and minority students). One of the efforts that has succeeded in boosting local graduation and college enrollment rates among disadvantaged students is a groundbreaking tutoring and mentoring program supported by Orange County United Way.

The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, supported through United Way’s Destination Graduation initiative, is an internationally proven academic teaching and learning program that holds students and teachers accountable to their highest standards and is creating a college-going culture that promotes expectations of success. The award-winning AVID program at Westminster High School has been particularly effective and was recently named a top AVID National Demonstration School among 150 schools in the nation.

“We’re seeing incredible results here at Westminster High since United Way got involved,” explained teacher Eric Dykes, coordinator of the school’s AVID program. “It’s allowed us to hire the number of tutors necessary to maximize impact. We’ve even seen a 100 percent decline in freshman dropouts!”

Dykes laid out the impressive program results: four in five of the school’s AVID students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and nearly all represent minorities. Yet all of the seniors in last year’s program graduated on time and completed entry requirements for admission to four-year colleges.

“What’s more, 98 percent took either the SAT or ACT test and more than 83 percent were accepted at four-year institutions. This is beyond our expectations,” shared Dykes.

These strong positive numbers stand in stark contrast to countywide statistics showing on average that 3,000 students drop out of high school each year, many of those with the same disadvantaged backgrounds as Dykes’s students, whom he regards as “diamonds in the rough.”

Rodolfo, Destination Graduation

One of the program’s success stories is a Westminster AVID graduate named Rodolfo, who now serves as an AVID tutor while attending college at Cal State University, Long Beach.

“Nobody in my family had ever gone to college,” said Rodolfo, “Now thanks to this program I can picture myself being successful, starting a career as a history teacher and starting a family.”

More than 1,000 students like Rodolfo have been helped since the AVID-Destination Graduation partnership was formed. Rodolfo remains committed to the program as he works as a mentor when he is not attending college.

Along with the AVID program, Destination Graduation supports innovations in teacher and student learning models proven to narrow the academic achievement gap, providing access to effective teacher training and mentorship programs that offer students a road map to success.

So far, Destination Graduation is in place at 11 high schools and 9 middle schools in targeted Orange County cities. The program provides students with exciting career exploration opportunities – both on and off campus – through a curriculum that includes corporate guest speaker presentations, STEM experiential hands-on learning, mobile STEM career exhibits, off-site STEM experiences and college field trips.

Destination Graduation is a key component of United Way’s 10-year action plan that calls for cutting the high school dropout rate in half by the year 2024, in addition to equally bold health, housing and financial stability-focused goals.

In March, United Way shared positive trends in the declining countywide dropout rate indicating that now 2,311 students drop out per year in the FACE 2024 Scorecard Report. However dropout rates remain higher than normal in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove, and among Latino students.

United Way leaders believe that even one dropout is one too many.

“We will not be satisfied until every student graduates on time, is prepared for college or their careers,” said Carla Vargas, Chief Operating Officer, Orange County United Way. “That is why programs such as Destination Graduation and AVID are so critical.”

“At United Way, we are changing the future for the next generation,” Vargas continued. “We do this by convening key stakeholders, focusing on the building blocks for a better life and maximizing our community’s collective resources to address the most critical issues facing Orange County families.”

In the case of Destination Graduation, United Way partners with local schools, employers and community organizations to empower local students to take control of their futures and ensure they are prepared for success in the classroom and beyond.

For more information about the Destination Graduation initiative and United Way’s role in the community, please visit unitedwayoc.org.


Katherine Ransom, Vice President, Marketing and Communications
Orange County United Way 949.263.6176, katheriner@unitedwayoc.org

Michael Suydam
21Strat 949.981.5008, mike@21strat.com


Since 1924, Orange County United Way has been working to improve lives and strengthen our community by mobilizing the caring power of Orange County, by focusing on the building blocks for a good quality of life: Education, Income, Health and Housing. By investing in Orange County’s children, families and individuals, we help them create pathways to self-sufficient futures through education and training. In short, we help people help themselves. Through our 10-year community-wide action plan “FACE 2024” (an acronym for Fund, Advocate, Collaborate, Educate), United Way is mobilizing local businesses, community organizations, governmental agencies and individuals to make a long-term measurable difference in the lives of local individuals and families. To learn more or to join our movement, visit www.unitedwayoc.org.

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