AVID Senior Standout reflects on her recognition


Rebekah Kim

Senior Andi Elisaldez (left) and AVID coordinator Jennifer Papageorge show off the AVID Senior Standout Award certificate.

Irene Sheen, Special Sections Editor

Time is of the essence, and for senior Andi Elisaldez, this was all the more true. 

During her college admissions process, Elisaldez had one more concern aside from academics and extracurriculars. 

“The actual process of applying was stressful for me because time flew by really quick and I had to wait for my mom’s payday until I could submit my applications,” Elisaldez said. “I had everything ready and done, I just couldn’t pay for it yet.” 

Torn on college applications given her family’s financial circumstances, Elisaldez recollects feeling pressured to choose from just a select few schools. 

“I limited the amount of colleges I applied to because we didn’t have the money to pay for things like that, especially because fees are kind of expensive for me,” Elisaldez said. “I’m sure other low-income family students can relate to this because we don’t have the same opportunities to apply or even attend the schools we want to.”

The senior’s mom, Catherine Burciaga recalls feeling upset over Elisaldez’s decision to sacrifice her education, and in return, urged the senior to pursue her dreams regardless of expenses. 

“Both myself and Andi’s life coach recognized that initially Andi was limiting herself to apply to a few select colleges based on our current financial situation, and I didn’t want that to be a reason that held her back,” Burciaga said. “I want her to see what she’s capable of.”

I want her to see what she’s capable of.”

— Catherine Burciaga

The narrative turned around in favor of Elisaldez when her victory against fellow Advancement Via Individual Determination [AVID] seniors set her on track to securing approximately $250-$35,000 toward college funds.

Based on a point system that considers multiple criteria including grades, leadership, community service, extracurriculars, Advanced Placement [AP] classes and home life, the AVID center, in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education, hosts an annual scholarship opportunity — a grant exclusive to Orange County [OC] seniors.

After a series of interviews with four qualifying applicants, the AVID site team — including Jennifer Papageorge, Cindy Moreno, Richard Bailey, Cristian Bueno and Lindsay Safe —  selected Elisaldez as the SH AVID senior standout of the 2021-2022 school year, guaranteeing her monetary support from the program’s yearly scholarship. The OC AVID center will notify Elisaldez of her total monetary reward on April 22.

“The AVID admin team interviewed them, added up all the numbers, and Andi won by a slight margin — slightest of slights,” AVID coordinator Papageorge said. 

Just a day after the interview for prospective scholarship winners — Elisaldez, Nevya Patel, Crismar Flores Reyes and Savannah Thul — on Nov. 19, the AVID admin team revealed its final decision for the school’s senior standout. 

“When they were announcing the finalists, they were going in alphabetical order, and my last name starts with E, and the first finalist’s last name was F, so I was disappointed and wasn’t expecting my name to be called,” Elisaldez said. “But after the shock wore off, I felt very blessed and excited to have an opportunity to earn a scholarship to help finance my college funds.” 

Safe, who taught then-freshman Elisaldez and eventually took in the senior as her zero period teaching assistant, said that the senior standout’s passion and all-around qualities make her the perfect candidate for the grant. 

“When we’re looking for an AVID senior standout, we’re looking for someone who truly represents our program,” Safe said. “These kids have to show and prove they are individually determined to be successful.”


In spite of their economic capacity that allowed for a limited margin for Elisaldez to explore sports at a young age, Burciaga notes that her daughter took advantage of all opportunities and strived in both academics and athletics throughout high school.

“Unfortunately, early on in her formative years, we didn’t have the capability to help her in any kind of organized sports,” Burciaga said. “Her first experience was in high school during her freshman year, and she never ceases to amaze me.”

As the freshman and sophomore captain of the frosh volleyball team, a former player for the school’s frosh soccer team and the assistant coach for the SH junior varsity men’s volleyball team during her pre-pandemic sophomore year, Elisaldez accumulated much athletic experience within her first few years at Sunny Hills.

“My coaches always told me I was naturally athletic and I didn’t have a hard time picking up new things in sports, so I could get the hang of it really fast and get down drills quickly,” Elisaldez said. 

The athlete went on to become the captain and starting libero for a team from Icon Volleyball Club during her junior year, as well as a highlighted member of the SH women’s varsity volleyball team. 

With a packed schedule consisting of sports practices as well as demanding honors and AP courses, the senior recalls countless challenges faced throughout her journey to earn this feat. 

“I had to push myself to keep with the load of work I was given and always strived for perfect grades while still being involved in the school and community,” the senior standout said. “I feel honored and proud to be this year’s senior standout because I have always felt my hard work, achievements and success have never been highlighted, but receiving this award really means a lot to me.”

I feel honored and proud to be this year’s senior standout because I have always felt my hard work, achievements and success have never been highlighted, but receiving this award really means a lot to me.”

— senior Andi Elisaldez

Despite an exhausting schedule, the varsity volleyball player considers her participation in the sport to be the highlight of her high school career. 

“Playing volleyball took my mind off the stress and weight I felt on my shoulders,” Elisaldez said. “I didn’t have a worry in the world when I played, and I already miss it now that the season’s over.”

Burciaga respects her daughter’s healthy approach in combating personal struggles. 

“She wants to put out the best work possible, and she’s really placing all of her energy into these positive extracurricular activities and into her academics to channel a lot of the frustration that she had,” Burciaga said. 

Senior Natalie Long, who has been acquainted with Elisaldez since seventh grade, appreciates the AVID senior standout’s optimistic attitude as well as her ability to stay focused on the task at hand.

“With everything she’s been through, whether it’s home life, social life, stress from school, she still manages to keep a smile on her face whenever I see her and gets even more motivation from what she’s been through,” Long said. “I think Andi is very deserving of this award because she has worked harder than anyone else I’ve ever known.”


Elisaldez’s former Honors Algebra 2 teacher, Bueno, notes that the program’s mission is to help all students prepare for college and the workforce, regardless of their background, and said that Elisaldez was always willing to make the most use of the resources that AVID provided. 

“I always tell my students that AVID isn’t a magical pill that makes them better students,” Bueno said. “You can show up and do [the] bare minimum and not get anything out of it, or you can show up and take advantage of tutorials (collaborative study groups), focused notes (study tool using notes), exploration activities, mentorship and guidance.”

Long, in agreement with Bueno, said that Elisaldez maintained her good grades with sole drive and true work.

“Andi knows that in reality, nothing is going to be handed to you if you don’t work for it, and that’s one of the things I highly respect about her because it’s not always easy to keep your motivation,” Long said. “Andi holds her head up high and even makes an effort to have good relationships with her teachers and make good impressions on anyone she meets.”

Bueno said she appreciated the senior’s transparency and claims that seeking interactions inside and outside of class, would be a student’s most ideal procedure in forming meaningful relationships with teachers — exactly what this year’s AVID standout did to demonstrate her commitment to the program and her future. 

“She has many goals and dreams, and she’s never been afraid to share them or ask for advice on things,” Bueno said. “She’s truly amazing, but this is something that she’s worked for throughout high school with no expectation to receive anything other than a great education and opportunities.”

Safe shares her passion for teaching AVID students, and as an experienced educator, said that Elisaldez is an individual with a unique mindset, difficult to spot in other students her age.

“She’s going to move mountains because of her ability to focus and be dedicated, and she just has this drive to be successful,” Safe said. “She’s wise beyond her years, her maturity is above most and whatever she puts her mind to, she’s going to be successful.”

For Elisaldez and her family who struggled throughout the years over financial concerns, this scholarship holds great promises for the senior’s future. 

“Our hopes are that she can successfully achieve a college education with the assistance of scholarships, grants and student loans if necessary,” Burciaga said. “Given her storied success in academics, athletics, and her personal life I truly believe she is a perfect candidate for scholarship.” 

Fostering her love for animals from a young age, Elisaldez hopes to utilize the program’s generous aid to pursue an education and career in veterinary science at the University of California, Davis, or at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. 

“I benefited from this program in so many ways because I am a first generation college student, and without the guidance of the AVID staff and tutors, I would be so clueless during the process of finding and applying to scholarships and colleges,” Elisaldez said. “This scholarship highlights my hard work, academic achievement, commitment to the AVID program and my roles as an exemplary scholar and role model.”