On Saturday morning more than 500 people headed off to work in Des Moines for a special once-a-year volunteer job: helping students stay on the path to graduate high school.

The 9th annual Graduation Walk was held on Saturday, August 26. Begun as a way to engage recent dropouts to return to school, the effort is now more focused on getting ahead of the curve to support students before they leave school.

The 2017 edition of the Graduation Walk reached out to high schoolers behind on credits, as well as high school and middle school students who had high rates of absenteeism or were otherwise struggling academically.

The Graduation Walk is made possible thanks to support from United Way of Central Iowa and Wells Fargo. Volunteers started the morning at one of the district’s five comprehensive high schools, along with Scavo High School and Hiatt Middle School, before heading out in the teams to visit students and their families.

In an interview with WHO-TV, Superintendent Tom Ahart said by going door-to-door, students and their families are able to better explain what’s keeping them from excelling in the classroom.

“There are transportation issues, there are food insecurity issues, there are housing insecurity issues. Once we figure out what that issue is we connect them with a community partner, and United Way has been wonderful in helping us make those links,” noted Ahart.

This year’s Graduation Walk ended up being the biggest effort to date. A total of 522 volunteers participated (up from 476 in 2016); 1,968 homes were visited (up from 1,487); and contact was made with 751 students or family members (up from 646).

Volunteers on the Graduation Walk included dozens of employees from DMPS and Wells Fargo, supporters of United Way, community members supportive of education, and several public officials including Congressman David Young, State Senator Matt McCoy, and City Councilman Chris Coleman.

Photos of the 2017 Graduation Walk

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