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Boulder's “I Have a Dream” Foundation Fosters Growth Among “Dreamers”

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In affluent Boulder County, there are “invisible,” impoverished communities whose young people face tremendous obstacles to success. The “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Boulder County is dedicated to helping these low-income youth achieve a brighter future through a long-term, comprehensive educational and cultural enrichment program. Recently, El Pomar Foundation approved a $5,000 grant to help launch the Aspen Dreamer Class—a cohort comprised of students on the free lunch program from Timberline PK-8 and youth who live in the Aspen Meadows Housing Neighborhood in Longmont.

The grant helps serve 50 low-income youth and over 100 Dreamer Parents and Family members. After attending the information session, parents were eager to sign their children up for the program, and they quickly filled all 50 spots for the spring of 2013. Since then, the students in the program, referred to as “Dreamers,” have logged more than 12,000 total educational, emotional, and life skills hours, which breaks down to more than 240 hours per participant. A large percentage of parents participate on a regular basis in monthly parent meetings, special events, parent-teacher conferences, and daily programming.

The Aspen Class has focused on a variety of different activities over the past year. They use the IDREAM curriculum (Integrity, Determination, Respect, Empathy, Achievement, and Motivation), developed by one of the Dreamer Class Program Directors. For each trait, students spend a day exploring what each value means and why it is important. For example, a group of Dreamers will act out a scene, and their peers will determine if they are showing integrity in the skit, and if not, there is discussion around what could be done differently to show integrity. This activity helps students rethink the choices they make because it gives them the vocabulary to express themselves, and also provides ideas on ways to positively influence a situation. Through activities such as this, the organization sees academic progress and positive trends on annual surveys addressing social-emotional and life skills development.

An inspiring story from this class of Dreamers focuses on a Dreamer called David. He is an amazingly positive 4th grader, but he really struggles with academics.  He had struggled his entire academic life and had begun to believe that he was a poor student, and that he simply was not smart.

The “I Have a Dream” staff in collaboration with his teachers, and his tutor has worked on changing his inaccurate self image by encouraging him and praising his small victories and good choices.  Over the past year, the change that we have seen in David, though gradual, has been amazing. He has started to see that he can make positive choices and is benefitting from them.  At one point he did not like reading, but now it is almost impossible to get him to put down his books. Step by step he is realizing that he is a capable student and can do what is expected of him academically. 

The other day while working in his class, his teacher asked some questions about compound sentences and David was one of the first students to raise his hand.  He was called on and gave his answer.  His answer was not 100% correct, but was a good building block for the rest of the students to construct the answer.  However, David was disappointed in himself for not giving the full correct answer. His Program Director worked with him after school to let him know that he showed great courage raising his hand first and that his answer would help the rest of the class get the right answer.  This cheered him up and he continued to participate.  Changing one's identity/self image is a slow but necessary process which will have long lasting impacts on David’s life. Our goal is to have David realize that with hard work and perseverance, there are no limits to what he can accomplish.