As a middle schooler, Ashley Sotelo was following an all too familiar path. Her brothers skirted in and out of trouble. Her parents, who had little education, struggled to make ends meet. And Sotelo and her friends just drifted.
“I thought maybe smoking weed was cool,” said Sotelo. “I hung out with the wrong crowd.”
By the time she was in the seventh grade, her two older brothers had dropped out of school, headed toward gang life.
“The word college had never been spoken in my house,” Sotelo said.
But Sotelo saw something beyond the limited prescriptions society seemed to offer. She knew she could do better, but didn’t know how.
Then she met Ellen Febonio, a teacher at Fitz Intermediate School in Fountain Valley and coordinator of the school’s AVID program, which is designed to help underachieving students with high academic potential turn around their performance and pursue higher education.
The teacher knew of Sotelo’s brothers and their checkered history.
“She said, ‘I’m not going to judge you,’” Sotelo said she was told by the teacher, who became a mentor and a steadying presence in her life.