Brittany Lomax earned respectable grades and stayed out of trouble. But dealing with family crises such as a heroin-addicted mother and homelessness left little time to ponder college. When she began high school four years ago, her goal was to graduate and get a job.
That changed three years ago when she enrolled in a college-prep program at Dundalk High School.
"Now, instead of thinking that I want a job, I know that I can have a career," said Lomax, 17, who recently won a $20,000 scholarship, a laptop from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and about $15,000 in annual grants for four years of college.
She credits her turnaround to Advancement Via Individual Determination, a national college-preparatory program that helps students strengthen their academic skills.
"I'm going to be the first person in my family to go to college," she said. "What AVID showed me was that it doesn't matter where you come from. All that matters is that you apply yourself."
Lomax - who plans to attend Villa Julie College in the fall and then pursue law school - was among 117 students from eight Baltimore County high schools who were recognized last night during a ceremony at Towson University that marked their completion of AVID.
The event also served as a celebration of dozens of scholarships the students have earned. School officials said 26 participants have reported more than $1 million worth of scholarships.
This year's graduates come from Milford Mill Academy and Dundalk, Kenwood, Owings Mills, Parkville, Pikesville, Randallstown and Woodlawn high schools.
Schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston encouraged them to continue the hard work in college.
"Remember, whatever it took you to get you to this point will also be what you'll need to get you to the next level," he said. "Whatever you do, this is the living evidence of your potential."
Dwight Parker, 18, a senior at Woodlawn High, said AVID gave him skills to dream bigger.
Before he enrolled in AVID three years ago, Parker took only standard classes and earned average grades. This year, his schedule included only Advanced Placement and honors courses. He recently won a full four-year scholarship worth about $154,000 to Seton Hall University in New Jersey, where he plans to study broadcast communications. He hopes to become a TV news anchorman.
"With AVID, I think I'd still be going to college, but I wouldn't be as prepared," he said.
AVID is aimed at students "in the middle" who, educators say, are capable of more challenging work but need more resources, such as tutoring and training in organizational skills, to reach their potential. Many participants come from lower-income households or will be the first in their families to attend college.
In addition to taking advanced classes, the students have one period a day devoted to learning organizational and study skills and improving their critical thinking. They also visit colleges.
The county began offering AVID in 2002 at six high schools and enrolled 119 students. School officials spent $1.1 million this academic year to expand the program to 1,233 students at 20 high schools. Plans call for offering AVID at all 24 high schools next year.
Lomax's mother, Jacqueline Harris, said the program brought out her daughter's potential.
"We talked about college when she was younger, but I don't think we would've pushed for it," Harris said. "AVID made it a reality."