URBANA, Ill., (WCIA) — It’s not always easy to start at a new school, especially when you’re a teenager transitioning into high school. You’re joining clubs, finding yourself and navigating life’s twists and turns.

Some mentors are helping Champaign County students through it all, especially after seeing recent graduation rates from the 2023 Illinois Report Card.

“One of the biggest barriers to success for our youth, and especially males, is having a positive role model,” Banio Koroma said.

He founded “Manhood Training Camp” and “Vision to Succeed” in Urbana. Now, he’s making it his mission to be that positive person for young men. Koroma feels mentoring is critical.

“We teach everything from ethics, the importance of self-esteem, self-respect, and hard work,” he described.

Koroma knows mentoring is one way to pave the path toward finding a purpose.

“One of the biggest goals we have is to have the youth have a vision of their future,” he said. “A positive vision that sees them as productive members of society.”

That’s something Lauren Smith with the CU One-to-One mentoring program likes to hear.

Since COVID, she’s noticed that the students she works with in the Champaign School District have lost that sense of purpose.

In the 2023 Illinois Report Card, graduation rates were the highest they’ve been since 2020.

87.6% of students in the state graduated in four years. But, there’s a gap between males and females.

Smith said it doesn’t surprise her but agrees with Koroma. She feels mentoring is one of the solutions.

“We’ve had mentees tell us that ‘I wouldn’t have stayed in school if it hadn’t been for my mentor,” Smith said.

Koroma knows if the young men he helps keep going to school, the doors will continue to open.

“We like to provide different options for the youth,” he said. “For their own outlook and also for them to have self-respect, self-esteem and to contribute in our society.”

If you want to be a mentor with Koroma’s program, visit this website. If you’d like to mentor with Champaign Schools, click here.