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For lots of families like mine, it is graduation season.  This can be such a joyful time for the students and their families alike.  I am so proud and grateful that my son is graduating from high school and looking forward to attending college.

I also am grateful that my son had not only my husband and me to help him work hard to succeed in school, but also wonderful teachers, coaches, and other adult mentors.  Even with all the excitement and fun of so many kids graduating, it saddens and shocks me that more than one million students will not graduate on time this year.  That’s right.  One million kids drop out of high school each year.  And they aren’t just missing out on the huge sense of achievement and lots of fun.  Over the long term, high school dropouts decrease their chances for a healthy, productive life and have a negative impact on their families and their communities as well. 

What can we do about this?   Along with helping students through volunteer reading or tutoring, mentoring makes a difference.  With only 20% of students’ time spent in school, out-of-school time serves as an integral part of a child’s education.  Adult mentors may provide emo­tional support, guidance that enhances a child’s self-esteem, and advice that many teens may be uncomfortable in seeking from their parents.  Building these kinds of relationships is particularly important for at-risk youth from struggling homes or low-income neighborhoods which frequently offer few role models or posi­tive outlets for young people.  Plus, mentored youth have better school attendance records and a better chance of going on to higher education.  Mentoring also seems to help prevent substance abuse and reduce other negative youth behaviors.   I hope you’ll read these inspirational stories of mentors and teachers who’ve changed a life, and share your own.

United Way has set an ambitious goal to recruit one million volunteer readers, tutors, and mentors.  As a gift to the graduate in your life, I hope you’ll pledge to help another student graduate by becoming a volunteer reader, tutor or mentor.  Helping a student stay in school is one of the best things we can do for all our kids and their future.  With enough people like you focused on helping kids succeed, someday all our children will receive the gift of graduation.