While there are many different initiatives targeted to develop opportunity for lower-income students, most start in middle or high school, and a persistent opportunity gap remains.
These are some special elements that characterize the “I Have A Dream” Foundation from other programs:
“I Have A Dream” makes a 16 year commitment to each student and their family starting in first grade, creating a culture of “college and career”. The year-round Program works with the same group of children from the elementary school years through college to career.
The “I Have A Dream”Program is flexible and can be tailored to suit the particular needs and resources of its community and Dreamer Scholars.
“I Have A Dream” offers its programming to ALL youth in a grade level/school/housing community who want to participate, there is no other criteria other than being from a low-income background. “I Have A Dream” does not pick the “cream of the crop” or the children most “at risk.” Every child in the selected age group is afforded an equal opportunity to set and achieve attainable personal and educational goals.
Dreamer Scholars are always encouraged to succeed, but are allowed to make mistakes without being terminated from the program (unless they are a threat to themselves or others) -“Once a Dreamer Scholar, Always a Dreamer Scholar” is the “I Have A Dream” motto.
Success is measured individually-the threshold goal is that all Dreamer Scholars graduate from high school functionally literate and have the option to attend college, a post-secondary program, trade school, apprenticeship and/or obtain rewarding employment. College or post-secondary attendance is not the ultimate measure of success; productive citizenship success is.
“I Have A Dream” has a tremendous “ripple effect ,” mobilizing untapped local resources that would not normally make their way into the communities where the Dreamer Scholars live, thus having an impact beyond the Dreamer Scholars and their families.
Family Engagement/Parent Partnerships
“I Have A Dream” also understands that academic success isn’t based solely on tutors and homework help—but that home life and personal issues have a significant impact on a student’s success. Because of this, parents/caregivers are deeply involved in the program—they attend monthly meetings, volunteer when they can, and take leadership roles within the “I Have A Dream” community. “I Have A Dream” also ensures parents/caregivers understand the collegiate process through workshops, monthly meetings, and home visits.
“I Have A Dream” doesn’t just prepare students for college or post-secondary success, we help finance the opportunity. All students receive tuition-assistance for college or another post-secondary education of their choice.
Dynamic & Responsive
Since its founding, “I Have A Dream” has also been dynamic, making adjustments where necessary to stay responsive and relevant to the trends in American education and the communities we serve. For example:
“I Have A Dream” Programs now start earlier.
They begin in first grade (no later than third grade). There is agreement among “I Have A Dream” Sponsors, funders and staff that the earlier one begins, the better the results will be. This is consistent with trends in early intervention programs.
“I Have A Dream”Sponsors are not all wealthy individuals.
Some are, but others work to raise a substantial portion of the funds necessary to meet operating and scholarship expenses from numerous private and public sources. This has led to a much more diverse group of “I Have A Dream” Sponsors and has expanded the support systems of the affiliates.
“I Have A Dream” Programs are not only based in public schools.
Dreamer Scholars may also be sponsored from public housing developments. Sometimes, the demographics and school selection or zoning patterns make it difficult to select a grade from a school in which most of the children are from low-income communities. In such circumstances, selecting a grade or age group from a public housing development ensures that the vast majority of the children in the selected group really need the support.
The beauty and longevity of the “I Have A Dream” Program can be greatly attributed to its simplicity, clarity, and foresight. The attraction to many is that each “I Have A Dream” Program reflects the entrepreneurial spirit that underlies the IHDF concept. It is this feature that guarantees the unique personality of each and every “I Have A Dream” Program. Just like people, no two are ever exactly alike.