When Festival Foods Chairman Dave Skogen was asked to speak to one of Logan High School’s AVID classes last spring, he didn’t know he would bring tears to one student’s eyes and make a lifelong difference in his life.
Skogen told the students his story — that he flunked out of college and that if he could succeed, they could, too. Afterward, a student told Skogen the tale gave him hope. The two became friends, and Skogen helped the student get a job at a Festival Foods store.
“It (AVID) gives these kids hope,” Skogen said, “kids who might have been cast aside.”
Skogen attended a press conference Monday in one of Central High School’s AVID classrooms, where representatives from community organizations and the La Crosse Public Education Foundation celebrated $233,000 in funds raised to cover start-up costs for the program in the La Crosse School District. AVID is in its second year and serves students in grades nine through 11 at both high schools, with plans to serve all four grades next school year.
“This is a great opportunity to celebrate our largest-ever fundraising amount and what it will do for students,” public education foundation president Greg Bonney said. “Hundreds have been impacted already by the program. Thousands will be as the program progresses.”
The district initially estimated start-up costs of $200,000 to provide teacher training, curriculum materials and support needed for the AVID program. The foundation has also pledged added money to cover costs for activities such as field trips to colleges. With expenses for the first three years covered, superintendent Randy Nelson said, the district was able to implement the program despite tight district finances.
Fundraising for AVID kicked off in 2014 when the foundation received a $125,000, three-year grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation of St. Paul. The first large local gift came from the La Crosse Community Foundation, which provided a $30,000. The La Crosse Community Foundation’s Robert & Eleanor Franke Charitable Foundation Fund offered a challenge grant, pledging a gift of $25,000 if LPEF was able to raise a total of $45,000 from other community sources, a goal recently met.
The AVID program provides mentoring and support to students who might not traditionally go to college. Students in the program learn studying skills, collaborate with their peers and receive mentoring on the college application process. Alyssa White, a sophomore at Logan, said the program has helped her to stay organized and push herself.
“The program has helped me stay on the path to university,” she said.
Central Principal Jeff Fleig thanked the community for its donations but also spoke about how the program gives students control of their own destinies. Many programs seek quick solutions to problems, he said, enforcing an agenda on students. AVID gives students the power to craft their own narrative and address deeply ingrained challenges, such as the racial achievement gap.
“I’ve been here for more than 20 years,” Fleig said. “You can’t find a more charitable place to live. But this is about doing justice to help students change the trajectory in their own lives.”
Other major gifts and pledges have been received from the Dahl Family Foundation, Dairyland Power Cooperative, Festival Foods, Fowler & Hammer Fund, Gundersen Health System, Kwik Trip, Mayo Clinic Health System Franciscan Healthcare, Rotary Works Foundation, Russell and Vera Smith Foundation and State Bank Financial. Nearly 50 private individuals have made gifts.