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By Degrees Foundation helping students focus on their future

A student in the By Degrees foundation shares how the program has helped him become knowledgeable about the college process starting at a young age.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Champ-Pacifique Mukiza has been in the By Degrees Foundation since 2015 when he was in the third grade. 

One of his favorite memories about joining the group was touring Central College that year. 

"Me and my peers were all given an opportunity to leave our school and go out and see what's out there, and possibly what's out there for us in the future," Mukiza said. 

The reason he and others in his grade were able to tour Central was because of the foundation.

By Degrees is a nonprofit focused on preparing students for life after high school. Whether that be a trade school, community college or a university. 

"We really target areas where students are coming from low-income backgrounds or might be the first in their family to go on to post-secondary education," By Degrees Foundation Director of Programs Heather Isaacson said.

She also noted the program helps students get prepared for their future in ways that are most beneficial to those they serve. 

"When we start young, we tap into their natural hope and their natural enthusiasm for learning and really those big dreams that they have," Isaacson said. "For a lot of our students, if you can't see it, you can't be it. And so for us, it's a dedicated effort for us to help them explore the great big world out there." 

The nonprofit also helps make sure students are successful by including community partners in their program. 

One partnership they have is with Central College in Pella.

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"We want them to know the stuff you do in class can be fun and enriching and that it's not simply reading a book or listening to a lecture," said Cheri Doane with Central College.  "There are experiments and other interactive things. We wanted them to just begin to grasp what a college is like."

And Mukiza said one of the most beneficial things about By Degrees is the organization helps students save for college through a 529 Savings Plan.

"By Degrees understands that by getting a higher education ... money shouldn't be a deciding factor to whether or not you are able to get that," Mukiza said. "That's why I think a 529 is such a great opportunity."

Though Mukiza is only in the ninth grade, he said going on the many college tours and being a part of the program has helped him think about his future. 

He currently breakdances and is into fitness, either of which could be a part of his post-secondary plan.

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

The coats will help keep the students warm once the winter comes, and the totes will be filled with things like hats and gloves.