Even as a young child, Darius Holmes knew that he wanted to go to college. He didn’t know that his high-poverty county and family’s lack of college experience are common barriers to fulfilling that dream, even in the “land of opportunity.”
Today, the senior is preparing to receive not just a high school diploma from Klamath Union High School but also college credits (earned during high school) from Klamath Community College and Oregon Institute of Technology, and a robust scholarship for a four-year degree from Seattle Pacific University in Washington.
Such success is a testament to Holmes’s innate drive and to the district’s commitment to closing the opportunity gap for all students.
In 2014, the Klamath Falls City School district invested in the nationally recognized AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, which supports high school success and college aspirations in low-income and other historically underrepresented student populations.
For teachers at all levels, the AVID program provides best-practice teaching techniques designed to fully engage students. For elementary students, it develops students’ academic habits, such as organization, study skills, communication and self-advocacy. For secondary students, it provides support for the most rigorous courses and the college application process.
KU is the only certified AVID high school in the Klamath Basin, and 100 percent of its AVID graduates have been accepted into college.
Holmes remembers applying and interviewing as a seventh grader for Ponderosa Middle School’s AVID elective course, a hallmark of the AVID program for middle and high school students.
“I learned a lot straight off the bat,” said Holmes, recalling assignments that asked him to research careers and colleges. “I started out very focused on college sports. AVID made me start thinking realistically about my future, about setting myself up for life after school.”
Six years later, Ponderosa teacher Calandra Kallstrom still clearly remembers Holmes from that inaugural AVID class.
“Darius joined AVID because he wanted to be the first in his family to go to college. While AVID gave Darius the tools, his personal drive, motivation and hard work are ultimately what let him accomplish his dreams.”
Holmes continued with the AVID elective all four years at KU, where he stayed focused on getting high grades in rigorous, college-track courses. His AVID and Spanish teacher Jared McCleve remembers that Holmes pushed through many academic challenges and even pushed KU to higher academic ground.
“I can tell you that the reason KU re-established its Spanish 4 dual-credit class is because of Darius,” said McCleve. “He didn’t ask, but I could tell he wanted to continue Spanish. So, I petitioned KCC to open Spanish 201, 202 and 203 for one student. I can now continue to push students through two years of college Spanish because Darius doesn’t like to quit.”
McCleve adds that Holmes also served as a Spanish tutor for multiple classes, always volunteered for community service opportunities and never backed away from leadership roles, even when they were uncomfortable.
“Although Darius was not comfortable speaking in public, he always would be the first to volunteer to present to the AVID class,” said McCleve, describing a twice-weekly requirement to present a collaborative problem-solving activity.
“Senior year, I asked him to address the entire district teaching staff for an AVID training. Many remarked they never would have expected him to speak to such a large audience with such confidence.”
Holmes was equally driven as an athlete. Senior year, he was named the “standout” player in KU’s homecoming football victory over Phoenix and two-time “player of the game” during basketball season. If not for student activity bans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he would have played in the basketball state quarterfinal games in Forest Grove.
His strength in sprinting and throwing discus and shotput helped KU win the 2019 Skyline Conference track and field championship. Holmes will compete in the decathlon for Seattle Pacific University, where he will work with KU alumnus Chris Reed ‘07, who earned All-American recognition at Western Oregon.
About his many accomplishments, Holmes said humbly, “A skill I have is sticking with a goal. My daily routine was school, sports practice, homework. I stuck with that through all four years.”
Holmes credits his self-discipline to three life mentors who were the subjects of his college application essay “Voices of My Life”: sixth-grade teacher Evan Mortenson, KU football coach Tom Smith, and maternal grandmother Grandma Sandy.
Teachers and coaches alike say such humility is typical of Holmes.
“He shies away from praise,” said Coach Smith, “but he is a great role model for the youth of this community. I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t like him.”
“Darius is extremely humble and down to earth,” said McCleve. “He is praised left and right, yet he smirks, nods and continues forth. Darius is what you hope for in a student: kind, unwavering integrity, highly intelligent but pliable to new learning, and the definition of grit. I am proud of him.”
In fact, McCleve has much to be proud of this year. All 12 seniors in his AVID class were on track to graduate when school closed March 13, and all 12 have been accepted into college. Of those 12, six have made college selections:
Xavier Arvizu and Ashlee Nielsen will attend the University of Oregon, their tuition costs covered by the Pathway scholarship. Daniela Sanchez and Angel Hernandez will attend Southern Oregon University. Emily Navarro will attend Oregon Institute of Technology. Xavier Ruano will attend University of Northern Ohio.
Not all children need or want college, but for those who do, the AVID program in the Klamath Falls City School district is ensuring it’s not just a pipe dream.