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.
“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.
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.
Alvarado blamed his academic struggles on the pandemic. He began home studies in the spring semester of his eighth grade. The transition to high school with his more rigorous academics was difficult, especially as he started again with distance learning. Working with Rodriguez has changed the world a lot.
His weekly meetings are motivating him and keeping him on track. During one of their meetings in October, Alvarado was considering whether to participate in a field trip to Dinosaur Ridge. It was going to cost $10, plus lunch, and he wasn’t sure if he had enough money.
Rodriguez encouraged her to leave. She is going to be a mentor on the field trip and promises that if he goes, she will bring his lunch.
“I’m really proud of him,” she said. “And I’m proud to be making a difference in their lives.”