AVID’s PEAK program helps students reach peak potential


Courtesy Dr. Lynette Gillson

Sophomores Diana Suvorova (left) and Naidely Gonzalez-Herrera (right) are half of the winning team of the Young Entrepreneurz Solutions (YES) Business Plan Challenge for their eco-friendly natural shampoo and conditioner brand proposal. YES is just one of the many opportunities the MVLA PEAK program offers students to introduce them to various career paths and develop their skill sets for life after college.

The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Program supports many of Los Altos’ first-generation college students through high school in preparation for success at four-year universities. But what comes after? To help students answer that question, AVID added the PEAK program (Pathways, Exposure, Academic connections and Knowledge) to their curriculum three years ago, aiming to help students with career development and networking.

“We’re enhancing the AVID curriculum by showing the students different pathways to possible careers, and also different careers that they may not have thought of before,” new PEAK Coordinator Dr. Lynette Gillson said. “PEAK lets students see direct applicability and gives them the skills and opportunities that are in the acronym.”

PEAK takes students on company visits to hear from panels of representatives and see the inner workings of organizations such as Ebay, El Camino Hospital, Adobe and Facebook. Even though COVID-19 has put a halt to the in-person tours, community organizations have continued reaching out and finding innovative ways to interact with students after seeing the program’s impact on students’ confidence.

“Students feel really inspired by the speakers’ stories, hearing what they have overcome and how they were able to get to where they are,” Gillson said. “It’s also a good reminder of the importance of networking and how the friends you make in high school, their families and your teachers are all part of your network that’s going to carry you through life.”

The PEAK program also hosts additional workshops and webinars for students on a variety of career-oriented topics. On Saturday, October 10, they partnered with the Young Entrepreneurz Solutions (YES) Business Plan Challenge to teach students how to turn an original idea into a business.

The four-day program started with speakers that introduced the attendees to the foundational skills of entrepreneurship and then students were sent off to work in teams to create their own comprehensive business plan. The team with the best outline for an original product and pitch to the judges won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Virgin Islands to present their idea to a panel of real investors and compete in the 2021 National Young Entrepreneurz Solutions Competition, plus $200 each.

First place winners NDEN presented their brand of natural shampoos and conditioners (left), outlining their products’ ingredients (bottom right) for the judges. GEM C, the second place company, showcased the values (top right) of their proposed upcycled and sustainable fashion business. (Courtesy PEAK students)

“They made the environment very supportive for everyone there, so whether you win or not, everybody has the chance to pursue their idea in real life if they want to,” sophomore Diana Suvorova said. “This experience showed me that it’s really not impossible to create a business, even if you are our age, and that it just takes a lot of research and effort.”

Diana was the CEO of the winning team, NDEN, alongside fellow sophomore Naidely Gonzalez-Herrera, who acted as the COO, and two other students from Mountain View High School. They worked tirelessly to propose a new brand of natural shampoos and conditioners with essential oils and eco-friendly packaging made from compostable plastic.

The second-place team may not have won a tropical trip but, seniors Govanny “Gio” Pena, Fernanda Palacios, Catherine Delafuente and Emilia Mogetta Bertiz still won $50 each and gained a new understanding of what it takes to start and manage a business. Their proposed company, GEM C, offers clothing and care items centered around being sustainable and ethical to reach their goal of minimizing fast fashion and single-use plastics.

“We’re using recycled materials, offcuts, and extra fabrics for the clothes,” GEM C CEO Emilia said. “I didn’t know anything about clothing production or ingredients in care products coming into it, so I had to research all the components and how they might harm the environment. ”

Coming into the YES workshop, Emilia knew that business was a potential interest of hers, and she felt the program would be a great opportunity to see if it’s a pathway she wants to pursue further.

Product design has always interested Emilia but was she hesitant to finalize that as a business major because of all the required accounting and finance classes. After the YES workshop, she feels more confident in those aspects of the major and her ability to pursue a future in product design and sustainability.

In 2018, the PEAK program won the Glenn Hoffman Exemplary Program Award, which recognized the program’s positive impact on students in Santa Clara County. The program is continuing its success by giving networking and career opportunities to first-generation, low-income, or minority students with workshops like YES. But most importantly, it sets students up with a can-do mindset that will follow them no matter what they choose to do.

“There’s not a right pathway or a wrong pathway, and it’s okay if you don’t know what your pathway is yet,” Gillson said. “You’re going to get somewhere that’s right for you if you keep your eyes open and keep looking.”