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Nonprofit shows Des Moines elementary, middle school students the possibilities after graduation

By Degrees is working to show students at Findley Elementary and Harding Middle School it's never too early to start thinking about higher education.

DES MOINES, Iowa — High school graduation might feel far away for students at Harding Middle School and Findley Elementary School, but a nonprofit is working to show them it's never too early to start thinking about higher education.

By Degrees elementary school program manager Billy Kirby said the group provides a unique partnership with schools to help "cultivate and sustain a culture of future-focused learning, mixed with building high achievers and big dreamers."

He said the organization wants to push students to their fullest potential and open their eyes to opportunities in college, trade school or community college. 

"If we want our future to look brighter and we want to look towards community improvement, there's no better place to start than with the youngest and most vulnerable," Kirby said. 

By Degrees also collaborates with community partners like the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. This week, the garden gave students "pet plants" to help them learn responsibility

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Principal Barbara Adams has seen significant improvement since the organization partnered with the Findley students. She said those changes have even been passed on to teachers, who are thinking about the future and showing kids their goals are attainable.

"Hope is something founded in efficacy," Adams said. "I know I can do this because people believe in me. I know I can do this because I have evidence of success."

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By Degrees is drilling home the reality of higher education by giving students college tours and teaching them about the costs of education and how to save for it.

"We have our 529 program, where we seed and fund 529 savings accounts for every student here at Findley, and they're able to earn up to $200 per year meeting milestones like academic growth, growth in reading," Kirby said. 

The organization plans to take students on in-person college tours once the pandemic settles down. 

Local 5 is having a Coats and Totes giveaway on Oct. 27 for students at Harding Middle School.

We'll have coats of all sizes to help keep students warm for winter, and the totes will be filled with other winter essentials like hats and gloves.