Myduyen Thimy Nguyen, a senior at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial, doesn’t want to be a nail technician when she grows up. But those are highest aspirations her family has for her.

“Everybody expects [me] to go to community college and get a nails license,” said Nguyen, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam 10 years ago. “I don’t want to do nails the rest of my life. I’ve worked so hard these four years, why not go to a university I want to go to? Why settle for a community [college]?”

It was these higher aspirations that led Nguyen to join AVID, a program aimed at preparing students who might not otherwise make it to college to succeed there. Nguyen was one of a dozen student leaders who attended the AVID Summer Institute held for the first time in Denver, where seven schools will offer the program this fall.

The conference drew more than 3,500 educators, including 70 from Denver Public Schools, to the area to learn about how to implement AVID at their schools. This coming academic year, Denver is expanding AVID to two additional schools: Manual High School and West Leadership Academy.

The program may come in handy for struggling students at DPS. The most recent ACT data shows that, on average, DPS students didn’t meet any of the minimum ACT subject scores that indicate they are college ready. The scores predict a student’s chance of passing first-year college courses in the corresponding subjects.

The program hinges on the idea that students who are more likely not to attend or complete college — including students of color, first-generation college students, and poor students — can succeed if they have the right skills. AVID teachers explicitly focus on those skills, such as note-taking, time management, and seeking out mentors, while students are in high school.

Gaining those skills can come at a cost. Students who participate in AVID for four years often must pass up chances to take other electives, such as art or music, although some districts incorporate the skills training into regular classes.

Nguyen and other local students say the program is worth it.

“[AVID changed] how I see certain things,” said Thomas Jefferson High School senior Adoneyase Mehari. “It’s a family feeling. I wouldn’t have that if I wasn’t in AVID.”

Mehari said his own grades have not improved since joining the program, mirroring external research about AVID’s effectiveness that has generated mixed results.

The program’s own data do suggest that the efforts pay off: According to AVID’s most recent survey data, students who participated in AVID aimed for four-year colleges instead of community colleges, got in once they applied, and stayed enrolled more often than similar students who did not participate in AVID.

Jaylene McDowell, who will be a freshman at Cherokee Trail High School this fall, said her two years in AVID so far had made a big difference for her.

“I joined AVID in seventh grade because I wasn’t doing well but my teacher saw potential. … I raised my GPA pretty dramatically,” McDowell said. “I wasn’t doing my work, I didn’t have good time management.”

McDowell said she learned how to stay organized through AVID. In addition, she also spoke highly of her AVID teacher, who took time out of her own spring break to sign McDowell up for the summer institute.

“You have to have a good teacher or [the AVID class] is not good and my AVID teacher was pretty amazing,” she said. “She took time out of her spring break to sign me up for this summer institute and she didn’t have to. It means a lot to me that she would take time out of her day and her vacation for me.”

It’s experiences like this that keep students engaged, said Marta Mansbacher, a rising junior at Englewood High School.

“The family-like environment is one of the reasons we like class so much,” Mansbacher said. “You know your teacher is dedicated and passionate and you’re going into a safe and trustworthy environment.”