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Every day in Utah, nearly 30,000 teachers strive to open the minds of their students to the power of education. Teachers yearn for that moment when the student is inspired, that moment when the light turns on in a child's mind, when their countenance changes and they realize the full value of what they learned.

I have seen the power of education in my own life. Education, coupled with caring mentors, enabled me to break free from poverty and abuse and reach for my full potential.

I am moved when the same combination of education and mentors often makes a stunning difference in lives around me.

Education is more than just filling minds with knowledge. It is filling hearts with hope — hope for a future of success, stability and happiness.

Did you know that across the nation, about 31 percent of young adults without a high school diploma live in poverty, while only 14 percent of young adults with a bachelor's degree or higher live in poverty?

Did you know that children who live half their early years in poverty are 90 percent more likely to enter their 20s without completing high school?

Did you know that people who don't finish high school earn about $19,316 annually, and their average unemployment rate is 8.2 percent?

Knowledge is power. Knowledge — through formal and informal education — is the power to emerge from poverty and achieve durable economic security, benefiting individuals, families and our state as a whole.

Education breaks poverty's grip and helps put people on the path to economic security. That's why I enthusiastically support our state goal for 66 percent of our adult population to have a college degree or post-secondary certificate by 2020. This goal will change lives.

Early-intervention programs, like optional extended day kindergarten, set our young students on the course to academic success. These students show greater improvement on proficiency tests and are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. Once on that course, students have a significant advantage in workforce readiness and employment security.

While these initiatives are vital, they must be complemented by the encouragement of adult volunteers in the classroom.

One caring adult in a child's life — whether a parent, a teacher, a volunteer or a friend — can have a profound impact on a child's academic success. Our greatest success comes when we contribute our time and love to help build self-esteem and mentor youth.

One vehicle for such volunteerism is the Guadalupe School in Salt Lake City. This school focuses on helping underserved children find empowerment through education, and it relies heavily on quality volunteers.

Educators at Guadalupe School — and many others throughout Utah — understand the combination of committed teachers, dedicated parents, and passionate volunteers creates the best environment to equip our students with the vision and skills needed for fulfilling, rewarding lives.

From the very first day a child enters kindergarten, to the day that child graduates with a college degree or certificate, education equips the student with the tools to succeed.

Far more than a path to a paycheck, education is a game-changer that lifts people out of poverty.

Did you know that you can make a difference in children's lives?

Pamela Atkinson, is a community advocate and adviser to the governor.

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