Stephanie Gopal’s parents – immigrants from Guyana – didn’t attend college. But they always emphasized the importance of pursuing a higher education.

Now the UCF freshman and aspiring doctor is encouraging younger students to stay in school and go on to college. She is one of more than 140 UCF freshmen teaching more than 2,500 elementary schoolers from several of Orange County’s most underserved schools.

The outreach effort is a new partnership between UCF and Orange County Public Schools and is part of a national college readiness program, Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID.

This month marks the first time that Orange County is using AVID’s curriculum in elementary schools, as the program has traditionally targeted middle and high schoolers.

It’s also one of the first times that college students are teaching the program in public schools, where University of Central Florida honors students’ involvement will act as a pilot program for similar partnerships across the country.

At Palmetto Elementary School, Gopal is teaching a class of fourth-graders that they can aspire to whatever they want to be, regardless of their backgrounds.

“Many of their parents didn’t go to college, and most of the kids don’t know it’s even an option,” Gopal says of the students she’s helping. “We’re putting the idea in their heads that if they want to go to college, they can.”

Although AVID is new to Orange County elementary schoolers, its success has already been documented among older students. In its 30-year history, the program has served nearly 400,000 students at more than 4,500 schools across the country.

Of the 239 most recent Orange County high school graduates involved with AVID, 100 percent were accepted to a four-year university or two-year college or enlisted in the military.

Organizers from OCPS and UCF hope that the college students will have a positive impact on the youngsters by sharing stories about their own journeys to college, overcoming obstacles and why they’re pursuing higher education.

“Our honors students are able to share the critical skills that have helped shape their own academic success with young people who are just starting out and have endless questions about college and being a successful student,” says Kelly Astro, director of Research and Civic Engagement for UCF’s Burnett Honors College.

The college students’ involvement is part of a freshmen service-learning seminar and civic engagement initiative that familiarizes them with the challenges of the public education system and encourages them to think critically about how they can make a difference.

In the nine elementary schools selected, freshmen from the Honors College will be working with third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes, teaching students social and life skills, such as such as goal setting, organization and time management.

Studies show that exposing younger students to college readiness and life skills programs before middle or high school leads to a greater likelihood of success throughout their academic careers.

As younger students move on to higher grade levels, AVID becomes focused on guiding them through advanced-level classes and helping them hone the critical writing, reading and math skills they’ll need to be successful on standardized tests, such as the FCAT and SAT.

Nationwide, 78 percent of AVID graduates in 2008 were accepted into four-year colleges or universities, making it one of the most successful education reform programs.

“This partnership is enhancing elementary students’ exposure to the college readiness world,” said Alex Reyes, senior administrator at OCPS’ Advanced Studies. “By bringing honors students into the elementary schools, we hope they serve as role models for the elementary students and help them realize that college is attainable.”

To learn more about the Honors College’s civic engagement initiatives, visit For more information about AVID, go to