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Oakland Scholar Molds Middle Schoolers After Overcoming Own Teen Challenges

by Christin Ayers and Jennifer Mistrot

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Anyone who has spent any time in a classroom filled with 13-year-olds can tell you, it can be a challenge. But for this week's Students Rising Above Scholar Sabrina Villanueva Avalos, mentoring middle schoolers a dream job that she was made for.

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Avalos could be spending her summer at the beach. But instead the SRA alum is spending her summer teaching her students all about leadership skills, giving lessons on self-awareness, integrity and honesty. It's a job Avalos loves.

"They are a tough crowd,' said Avalos. "And they are very brutally honest. It's kind of hard but they are funny."

Avalos is a college intern for the Partners Program at College Prep, an academic enrichment program designed for Oakland Public Schools. Students must commit to three years of study during summer break, and after class during the school year. Program director Samuel Beltran said Avalos was a natural choice for the job.

"She really had this inner drive," explained Avalos. "And we felt like she would fit right in to being a role model and someone who would be really effective working with young people."

But it's not just about academics. Many of the kids enrolled in the program face challenges outside the classroom, something Avalos knows about firsthand.

"It's such a sensitive time," explained Avalos. "And they need people who are about them and who support them."

As a teenager Avalos needed extra support too. She was homeless, and struggling to help care for her mom, who was diagnosed with cancer and Parkinson's disease.

"It taught me how to grow up pretty fast," said Avalos. "Which is both a good and bad thing."

Avalos took the bad with the good. Her mom has been slowly regaining her health and the pair have a home. And with help from Students Rising Above, she's graduating from college later this year.

"I would never have been able to have that switch,' said Avalos. "And have that positive mindset without Students Rising Above."

And she's living her dream - teaching.

"Honestly it doesn't feel like real work. You kind of just come in and hang out," said Avalos with a smile. "And feel like a kid again."

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