8th Annual Graduation Walk Kicks Off Saturday in Des Moines

DES MOINES, Iowa -- On Saturday, hundreds volunteer will canvas the city to get kids back into school during the 8th Annual Graduation Walk.

Currently the Des Moines Public School District has over 2,000 students who are at risk for dropping out and this year the district casting a wider net.

“In addition to reaching out to the under credited and disengaged, were reaching down as low as 6th grade,” said Tom Ahart, Superintendent, Des Moines Public Schools. “Reaching out to those families that have issues with chronic absenteeism. Really, trying to send the message to them that even though, you’re only in 6th or 7th grade and credits aren’t in the equation yet. We know are in danger already.”

Graduation Walk volunteers will be paired with a Des Moines Public Schools staff member to visit the homes of the  students who are at risk of dropping out of school. The volunteers connect personally with the student and their family, share information about career outcomes for dropouts, and help return them to the path that leads toward graduation.

“You have to sit down and get to know the kids. Actually understand, develop a relationship. Then they will start to let you in the true why, they are not being able to come to school,” said Mike Vukovich, Principal, North High in Des Moines.

Over the first seven years of the event, volunteers have called on the homes of 4,000 youth, meeting with 2,000 of them, to discuss ways they can reconnect with school and graduate. One of those students was North Senior Randy Overton. He has a big issue with getting to class. He missed almost 40 percent of all classes during his sophomore year.

“Stuff happened my freshman and sophomore year and didn’t really feel motivated to go to school,” said Overton. “My dad passed away, so I’ve been raised by my mom. So, I started to have to work at 5 a.m. at my job to earn a little extra money.”

An unsuspecting knock came on Overton’s door early one Saturday morning and that was the push he needed to get back into school.

“When that door opens and you see a student sitting there looking at you and you say I care about you, please come back to school. It’s not only powerful for the student but it’s powerful for the individual,” said Mary Sellers, United Way.

The United Way and DMPS were able to help Overton map out what the road to graduation would look like that morning and he’s been on the right track ever since.

“I told him today, it took him 13 years to get through an entire day of school, without leaving a class. And he was proud of himself,” said Edward McCulley, Vice Principal, North High.

Overton plans on taking part in the walk on Saturday and he already knows what to say when the door opens.

“What’s going on? What’s happened in your life, that you’re not coming to school,” says Overton.