VC volunteers help at-risk students

From left, seated: Carmen Herrera-Lara, Workforce Solutions Center director; Matthew Weiler, PTK advisor; & Rick Villa, CIS supervisor. Standing: VC mentors Austin Supak, Cheyanne Yendrey, Gail Wright, Jennifer Filip, Jenilee Rollefstad & Katie Molina.

Every year, about 1.2 million U.S. students drop out of school, and these dropouts are more likely to end up in low-paying jobs or commit crimes than students who graduate from high school.

The good news is that dropout rates have been in decline since the early 1990s among all students but especially among Hispanic Americans.

Providing students with the support and encouragement they need to stay in school and graduate is the No. 1 priority of Communities In Schools, a nationwide organization that connects volunteers with students at risk of dropping out. In the Golden Crescent region, CIS volunteers reach out to middle school and high school students with mentoring, tutoring and support.

This year, several Victoria College students are volunteering with CIS as mentors and tutors at Patti Welder, Howell and Stroman middle schools and at Victoria West and Victoria East high schools. Members of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society selected CIS mentoring for this year's college project, and VC's Student Government Association also recently committed to volunteering for CIS.

"CIS's dedication and commitment to bettering the youth of the community is the main reason PTK chose to support them," said Katie Molina, PTK president.

PTK member Austin Supak volunteers every week at Stroman Middle School. Supak is in her second year at VC and plans to earn her Associate of Science, transfer to Texas State University and major in biology. She tutors students in math after school during the "Power Hour" in the CIS room at Stroman.

"The kids have so much going on. I forget what it was like to be in middle school," she said. "I feel like I'm not only a tutor, but I'm there for them to talk to."

Having a place where they can deal with problems, personal and academic, is one of the real benefits for the students.

"One girl was recently talking about how her parents didn't even make it through middle school, and they're so happy she's staying in school," said Supak.

She hopes she can help students stay in school by making math just a little less intimidating.

"A lot of people hate math, and they'll keep pushing it off," she said. "But if I can make them see it's not so hard and it progressively gets easier, that changes some things."

With nearly 20 VC students volunteering this year in the schools, the goal is to support and inspire more students in middle school and high school to keep learning and to graduate.

Molina explained volunteering goes beyond tutoring.

"It's really about getting to know students on a personal level to encourage them to achieve their personal and scholarly goals," she said.

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