Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NEWFANE — Students climbed into a large, green RV that read “Roadtrip Nation” at Newfane High School on Tuesday. They didn’t leave school grounds, but the aim of the event was to inspire them to explore new career paths based on their own interests.
The event included video testimonials, interactive activities and a speech by Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour to motivate students to find out what they want to do after graduation.
Roadtrip Nation is an organization dedicated to helping students explore potential careers. The organization has a TV show on PBS that follows groups of young people who travel the country in green RVs and interview people whose lives inspire them.
As an offshoot of the organization, Roadtrip Nation Education gives students access to the vast interview archives and visits from the traveling “Roadie” teams of speakers who make trips to schools across the country. The education program is sponsored by AT&T, which donated $1 million to Roadtrip Nation earlier this year to extend the program to 10,000 more students, including those in Newfane.
Students in grades 7 through 11 who participated in Tuesday’s event are enrolled in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), a college readiness program. Principal Thomas Stack says Newfane is the only school district in Niagara County that offers the program, which is aimed at certain students to help them achieve their college goals.
“It’s about 20 to 25 students per grade level, kids who have the potential and are meeting a set of criteria,” Stack said, “(and) also some kids who are the first to really have the chance to go to college from their families.”
Roadtrip Nation partners with AVID programs across the country. Members of the “Roadie” crews are former AVID students themselves, according to Stack, and having Roadtrip Nation bring its traveling road show to Newfane helps reinforce what students learn in class.
“These are kids who can speak in depth to the program,” Stack said.
The four members of the Roadie crew brought a dose of energy to the presentation, encouraging students to participate.
“Everyone, write down two different things you like,” Emmercelle DeLeon, 25, shouted into a microphone. “And then, come up with a career that involves both.”
The combinations included “acting and film-directing” and “talking and helping people-therapist.”
One ninth-grade student was invited to the floor to make a cold call to someone in an engineering field, her chosen career, and set up an interview appointment. “This is help you connect with someone in your field,” DeLeon said.
Newfane High was the 16th school that the Roadie crew has visited on its current trip. “We’ve seen all different cultures and different kinds of neighborhoods, different demographics. I think if we talk across the board, AVID as a program is consistent throughout the whole country, as far as we’ve seen,” DeLeon said.
“I don’t think I’ve met a single poorly behaved AVID student; every single one of them is so sweet, so interested,” said Kim Nederveen-Pieterse, 22, another Roadie member.
The AVID curriculum includes a variety of study methods, including having students keep their materials for all classes in one binder, and writing questions into the margins of their notes.
“We take Cornell notes. There’s a two-inch margin on one side of our notes for any questions we have, then at the bottom we write a summary of what we’ve learned for the day,” said Joel Swogier, a junior.
Haliegh Seeloff, also a junior, said that she likes the SAT prep that’s offered. “We go over SAT terms Tuesdays and Thursdays, which is helpful because those terms were on the PSATs.”
Newfane High English teacher Jason DiVincenzo, the AVID site coordinator, said the program focuses on getting students into experiences. Students have already taken field trips to Buffalo State College, Niagara University and SUNY Brockport, and they’ll visit an Ivy League school, either Colgate or Cornell, soon, DiVincenzo said.
Voutour’s speech had a running theme of working hard to achieve goals, using his personal anecdote of making it into professional baseball.
“I knew from when I was 15 or 16 that I wanted to play baseball professionally, so when I left baseball practice at night I’d go home and practice in my backyard,” he said. “I played in college and when I graduated from SUNY Brockport, I signed a professional minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers for one season.”
Voutour said he applied the same strategy to his 2008 campaign for sheriff, and then to receiving his Master’s degree from Niagara University this past May, with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
“Take chances, take risks,” Voutour told students. “The key to success is getting up every day and doing something you don’t want to do.”
Roadtrip Nation is visiting Lyndonville Central School District today.