EDITORIAL: Student is case study in success

Jul. 23, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

It's hard to know whether it's better to characterize Addie Gonzalez as an overcomer or an over-achiever.

If you've had the chance to meet her, you'll discover that she's actually both.

The 17-year-old was saluted last week with a standing ovation after an address to some 2,500 people at a regional AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) conference in Philadelphia, where, as one of the featured speakers, she talked about approaching the obstacles she's faced as stepping stones, not stumbling blocks.

AVID is a program that focuses on students who face disadvantages and difficulty. All teenagers have struggles, but Addie’s, outlined in The Herald’s story on her Sunday, are unique. Born in Mexico, she moved to the United States six months later. Her parents had little formal education. Here, she confronted struggles with language and racism and an assortment of other challenges that face students who have economic and bureaucratic hardships thrust upon them.

Now the rising senior at Southern Lee High School finds herself doing things like speaking to throngs of people in Philadelphia, or being inundated with calling cards from local business leaders who want to guide her to their alma mater or talk to her about her career aspirations.

It's pretty heady stuff for any young student, but the way Gonzalez has handled herself throughout the process is a clear indication that her own determination has been instrumental in her accomplishments.

Gonzalez got lots of guidance and help from her AVID instructor, reigning Lee County Schools’ “Teacher of the Year” Joanna Perkins. Perkins has described AVID as an “anchor” for kids like Gonzalez who need a cheerleader and an advocate. Perkins also described herself as someone who benefited from mentorship during her own teen years and sees AVID as a kind of “pay it forward” program.

Rarely a day goes by that we don't read about a teenager or youngster who didn't have a positive pay-it-forward influence in their lives. Lee County Schools’ AVID program, working now in its middle and high schools with the help of a $40,000 grant to train teachers, is working to change that. The lessons to be learned from the accomplishments of both Gonzalez and Perkins are valuable ones: given the right opportunities and relationships, and a good dose of determination, obstacles that seem insurmountable suddenly aren't so big.

Everyone has a dream, as Perkins told The Herald, but to follow through like Gonzalez?

Clearly it's something special.