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Column: Volunteers play important role in education

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Anyone who questions whether volunteers can make a difference need look no farther for answers than within this community.

In a multitude of ways, people who give of their time, resources and abilities have transformed the quality of life in Bartholomew County for the better.

Some of those volunteers might wonder if their particular contributions have an effect, given that their work doesn’t always have a direct link to the success of the cause they are supporting.

Rest assured that it does.

There are a significant number of opportunities for those who are willing to take the time and effort to help others. One, in particular, not only involves helping individuals achieve immediate goals but promises to have a dramatically positive effect on their futures.

And the beauty of this particular opportunity is that the results of helping out are clearly recognizable.

Earlier this summer, a consortium of groups including the Community Education Coalition, Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Franklin and Cummins Inc., launched an ambitious program called iGrad to help at-risk students in Bartholomew County graduate from high school.

The ambitious aspect of the undertaking is that the intent is to increase the current local graduation rate from 80 to 100 percent in five years.

Activists don’t just want to stop at a perfect high school graduation rate. They want to double the county’s percentage of adults who have 2- or 4-year degrees from 30 to 60 percent.

While the county’s educational and business communities are fueling this endeavor, its success rests largely on one-on-one tutoring experiences in which volunteers will give their time and skills to work with at-risk students. These students are not necessarily all academically challenged. Some might have problems at home, and others might need to be provided the motivation to simply show up for school. Still others might be under the false impression that the costs of college simply exclude them from consideration.

The iGrad program is designed to address all of those situations. At present, organizers are hoping that at least 300 volunteers will step forward to help out in a variety of ways.

Tutors are needed to help students in specific subject areas in which they might be encountering difficulties. There are requirements for serving in the role of a tutor, specifically, a high school degree and some expertise in the academic area they are working with the student.

Mentors serve as friends and guides to students so that they develop important academic and life skills with a single-minded goal of at least graduating from high school. Mentors must have a high school degree.

There is also a need for volunteers who might not work directly with students but who can make a difference by giving their time at events associated with the project such as working in booths at special events or helping out with administrative tasks.

Although there is a difference to the iGrad program, it does follow in the tradition of an earlier community effort aimed at helping elementary school children who have fallen behind their classmates in reading abilities.

The Book Buddies program brought individual mentors together with the children to work on their individual skills. That program has drawn universal praise for its success in that a significant number of the students who were tutored in this fashion did achieve reading parity with their classmates.

For information on the iGrad program, go to the website or call the program administrator at 374-5340.

iGrad certainly has an ambitious goal, but if enough volunteers step forward, that goal is truly achievable.

Volunteers can make a difference.

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