It seemed like there was no hope left for her education or her future.

By the time Kristina Short began her freshman year of high school, her mind was anywhere but in the classroom. She didn’t have a consistent place to live, which meant she switched schools often and never felt settled. The stress of her situation occupied her mind 24 hours a day.

“I wasn’t worried about my grades. I was worried about a lot of other (personal) things,” Short said.

Short’s difficult life circumstances began to take a toll on her studies. Her attendance was erratic at best, and she was failing every class she was enrolled in.

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At the start of her sophomore year, Short had made a decision — she was going to drop out of school.

But then, halfway through her sophomore year, Short heard about the iGrad program at Columbus North, and things started to change.

Slowly but surely, Short’s grades began to improve.

Her iGrad mentor encouraged her to retake the classes she had failed in order to improve her grade point average.

Ultimately, her grades were good enough to earn admission into Ivy Tech’s ASAP accelerated-degree program, which she began after graduating from Columbus North in June 2015.

Today, Short is on a higher education path that will lead her to her dream of becoming a librarian.

But without the support of the iGrad mentors, coaches and tutors at Columbus North, Short said her life would have taken a very different turn.

“Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be in college right now if it wasn’t for the iGrad program. I probably wouldn’t have graduated,” she said.

Short shared her story with a group of about 20 iGrad volunteers at the program’s first volunteer appreciation luncheon Tuesday at the Columbus Learning Center.

The iGrad program was launched as a partnership between Cummins Inc., Ivy Tech — Columbus and the Community Education Coalition in 2012 as a way to keep struggling students on track to graduate.

Coaches, mentors and tutors are available to students in grades 8 to 12 in Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek schools.

Although the luncheon featured student success stories, the focus of the event was on the volunteers who help struggling students such as Short turn their lives around.

“You’re providing hope for a better future for students who may not be able to see what that could look like,” said Bill Jensen, BCSC director of secondary education.

Brooke Tames, a junior at Columbus East, also recalled how her academic career was turned completely around thanks to the help of her iGrad mentors.

Formerly a C and D student, Tames said school was never one of her priorities. Her mother, however, wanted her daughter to have a chance at a bright future, so she referred her to the iGrad program.

Although she was resistant to the idea at first, Tames said the transformation in her life that occurred as a result of iGrad was amazing.

Not only are her grades improving to As and Bs, but her overall outlook on school and her future improved with a little encouragement from iGrad volunteers.

“My coaches helped and made me realize my problems and helped me fix them,” Tames said. “I am thankful for iGrad for helping me to find success in my school and beyond.”

While the students credit their mentors with the radical changes in their academic lives, iGrad volunteers say the admiration is mutual.

Don Perry, an iGrad volunteer at Columbus North and East high schools, told his fellow volunteers at the luncheon about a student he is working with who has no family at home to support her.

But in working with Perry, the girl has flourished beyond belief, he said.

Not only is she is doing well in school, earning As and Bs, but the girl is learning to work independently to reach the goals she otherwise might have given up on without a family support structure.

“She wants to succeed,” Perry said, with the student reaching heights that he did not realize she was capable of attaining.

Stories such as this one are why Perry continues to serve as an iGrad volunteer, he said.

The experience of witnessing their growth and seeing their pride as they accomplish their goals is one he never grows tired of.

“The most powerful piece we’ve seen is when we have iGrad students go back and become volunteers themselves and work with students because they have been there, they know and they know how important that hope is,” Jensen said.

Without the work of iGrad volunteers, Columbus high schools would not be celebrating a 91.4 percent graduation rate, Jensen said.

But iGrad is about more than graduation rates, he said.

It’s about showing students that they matter and inspiring them to reach their full potential, he said.

“Know that because you give them time and attention, they sense that feeling of hope,” Jensen said.

About iGrad

iGrad coaches at Bartholomew County middle and high schools are trained to provide academic and emotional support to students who are struggling to finish school. Students can join iGrad for several reasons, including academic risks, personal struggles or other extenuating circumstances. Based on the situation, a student can be assigned to a tutor or mentor, in addition to their iGrad coach.

The program is sponsored by Cummins, Inc., Ivy Tech – Columbus and the Community Education Coalition.

Resources are available to students in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and Flat Rock – Hawcreek School Corp. For more information, visit igradcolumbus.com

How to volunteer

To volunteer to become an iGrad mentor or volunteer, visit igradcolumbus.com and click on the “Community” tab. Volunteer requirements and applications are available online.

iGrad statistics

Years in operation: 4 (since 2012)

Students enrolled: About 600

Number of volunteers: 155 in June 2015 — 85 community tutors/mentors, 70 peer tutors. This year there are about 40 community tutors/mentors.

Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.