Improving Student Academics One Touch at a Time

What does it take to change a life?

When it comes to improving academics--specifically performance in the classroom--you may think it’s all about ‘hitting the books.’ However, for an increasing number of students today, classroom performance is just one of many things on their mind, and often pushed to the bottom of the list because of harder challenges they’re facing emotionally or socially.

One of the ‘pillars’ of the Columbus Area United Way is to “help children and youth achieve their potential in education.” Over the years, the United Way has seen an increasing focus of programing toward social and emotional health for youth struggling academically.

Programs funded by the United Way including Teen Parent and Out of School Suspension (OSS) programs at Youth for Christ, and mentoring programs such as Teammates and Big Pals~Little Pals, are directed at helping students improve in the classroom. Many times the ultimate success for these programs is to see at-risk students graduate from high school.

To get to graduation, many United Way agency partners and programs are focused on working one-on-one with students to overcome challenges hindering their academic performance such as: classroom attendance, self-confidence, anger management/coping skills and other social and emotional skills. Mentors play a key role in providing this guidance and encouragement, and often talk with students about plans after high school as many may not have those conversations at home.

Says United Way board member and Lakeview Superintendent Aaron Plas, “Mentoring can be incredibly beneficial for students of all ages.  Connecting with students in a one-on-one setting provides an environment that allows for a deeper relationship. It is through this relationship that meaningful guidance and support can take place.  It truly takes a community to help students become successful and mentorship is a very important piece of the educational puzzle. We in education are lucky the United Way has supported so many positive programs for our youth!”

Trey, a senior at Columbus High School last year, spoke of his experience at Youth for Christ (YFC) and how it helped him improve in school and in life:

“The summer between my eighth grade and freshman year brought a lot of changes for me. I started making bad decisions and hanging out with the wrong crowd, and getting into real trouble. I was put on diversion and given a lot of community service hours at YFC.

(I) liked the staff (at YFC), they seemed to care about me and talked to me about the choices I was making.  They worked with me on how to be a leader to my peers and follow the right path.

YFC became a huge part of my life.  Every Monday night I would attend their program for high schoolers; I even took off work to be there. By the end of my hours I decided I didn’t want to be in trouble anymore. YFC taught me that I could be who I wanted to be, despite who I had been and who my family was.  It wasn’t too late for a second chance.

I am taking small steps, but I am already so different than I used to be; I want so much more out of this life. I no longer wear the label ‘criminal’ or ‘no good.’ YFC has helped me discover who I am and what I can do in my life.”  

Trey did graduate from CHS in May 2018 and is now working full time at Hy-Vee.

So what does it take to change a life for today’s struggling youth?


Each donation to the United Way can change a life. Please consider giving a year-end or monthly gift to the Columbus Area United Way 2018-2019 Annual Campaign to help continue programs like these. To set up your donation, visit or call the office at 564-5661.