Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Colorado Youth for a Change aims to improve the state’s high school dropout rate one student at a time

During his freshman year of high school, Govan Alvarado tried out for the soccer and basketball teams.

He didn’t make the roster. Not because he was bad at the game, though. His grades were terrible, and the coaches told him he didn’t qualify.

Alvarado asked a teacher at Alameda International Junior/Senior. high school in Lakewood for help, and she directed him to Colorado Youth for a Change, a non-profit organization that prevents students from dropping out of school. Through the program, Alvarado was paired with a mentor, Lily Rodriguez, and the two meet weekly to go over their grades, review homework and talk about what it takes to be successful. .

This year, in class 10th, Alvarado’s report card shows mostly Ass and Bs with some Cs. He played a midfielder on the school’s football team, and the basketball coach told him he was welcome to join the team.

“I’m grateful because as a freshman I didn’t get any help. It was a struggle,” Alvarado said. “Since then, my grades have been getting better and my parents are proud of me. Tell the parents about Miss Lily. She really helped me with my grades.”

The organization’s executive director, Mary Zanotti, said Colorado Youth for a Change was formed in 2005 to address the state’s high dropout rate, when an average of 18,000 students drop out of school annually before graduation. The program uses volunteers to help keep students engaged and enrolled in school at all grade levels.

Volunteers help children in grades 1 to 3 read, as children who struggle with reading comprehension tend to lag behind at an early age. They teach math from fourth to eighth grade, so they have a strong foundation when it comes time to tackle algebra. And then volunteers and mentors work with high school students to remove various barriers that keep students from finishing, Zanotti said.

Today, Colorado Youth for a Change operates in 34 school districts on the Western Slope and along the Front Range in northern Colorado, Zanotti said. Last year, 9,000 students dropped out of Colorado high schools, she said.

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“I tell people there is 9,000 Red Rocks potential,” Zanotti said to put the issue in perspective.

The organization has seen a surge in demand for its services during the pandemic as students fell behind when schools switched to remote classes. They are “everywhere in their learning,” she said.

Colorado Youth for a Change

Know: 2490 W. 26th Ave, #110A, Denver, CO 80211

In operation from: 2005

Number of Employees: 37

annual budget: $3.6 million

Percentage that goes directly to customer services: 88%

Number of customers served in 2020: 5,820

To help meet demand, Colorado Youth for a Change uses AmeriCorps volunteers to serve as tutors and mentors for students. The target is to have 400 jobs within the organization in this academic year.

“That’s what the power and influence of an adult is in the lives of these children,” said Julia Hughes, senior director of development and communications at Colorado Youth for a Change.

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