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I Have a Dream Foundation Extends School to Break the Poverty Cycle
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Students answer the question: Imagine a giant box is delivered to your doorstep with your name on it. What’s inside and what happens when you open it?
   
Monday, January 9, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

At 3:30 each school day 61 students from Bellevue, Alturas and Hailey elementary schools head to the playgrounds at Bellevue Elementary School for a recess that’s not an official part of the school schedule.

After 15 minutes of playing on swings and kicking balls, they adjourn, splitting up in smaller groups bound for four trailers on the school grounds.

Each trailer resembles an elementary classroom, full of  self-portraits the children drew of themselves, artwork hanging from the ceiling, a chalkboard enumerating points to consider when reading a book and even a suggestion for writing a story of their own.

 
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Kris Stoffer reads an animated version of “Bunnicula” to help the students transition from squirming to re-engaging their minds.
 

The students constitute the second generation of students in the I Have a Dream Foundation-Idaho  program. The program is designed to offer educational, social and cultural enrichment opportunities for economically disadvantaged students in order to bridge the education gap and get the kids looking forward to college and other post-secondary education.

“We’re working with 61 elementary students right now, and we plan to include 20 more this spring,” said Laura Rose-Lewis, the executive director of the non-profit program. “By fall we plan to be working with more than a hundred students, including some at Hemingway STEAM School. Originally, most of the kids who are low-income were in the South Valley, but it’s not that way anymore. We hope to get 40 more children from Hailey and Hemingway schools.”

Some of the students filing into their afterschool classrooms fall into bean bag pillows their tiny bodies quickly swallowed up. Others grab blankets and lay on a couch, craning their heads to listen to Kris Stoffer read the story of “Bunnicula,” a vampiric pet rabbit that sucks the juice out of vegetables--organic vegetables, that is.

“Remember: We’re listening to what the story is about, and for vocabulary words you don’t know,” Stoffer tells them as they begin to settle down. Moments later she closes the book as they blurt out squeals of protest.

 
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Students work with an online tutor out of New York in a program that proved so successful last year that a donor offered $10,000 to reprise it this year.
 

“What do you think will happen?” she asks them. “We’ll find out tomorrow.”

The story over, the students split up into smaller groups. Two boys go to a computer where a tutor works through math and literacy lessons. A few work on art projects with doilies and construction paper.

A tutor at one table shows a few students how to write their names, while another helps students construct a clock as they learn to count by fives. A few write an essay answering the question: “Why is family important to you?” while other children compose their own stories.

“One night me and Aguilar broke into Willy Wonka’s factory and there was Bloody Mary,” writes one. “She chased us all around the factory and the lights turned red and Bloody Mary came in.”

 
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This youngster is learning to tell time and multiples of fives as he builds a clock.
 

Statistically, economically disadvantaged students perform dramatically below students whose families are better off financially, said Rose-Lewis. Seventy-five percent of Idaho’s high school dropouts come from under-resourced families, and only 29.5 percent of Blaine County’s Hispanic elementary students were reading at grade level in the fall of 2022.

“We started a new round with first-graders as we got ready to graduate our first bunch of Dreamers. But school principals asked us if we would help students in the next grade up, as well, because they got so far behind during the COVID disruption,” said Rose-Lewis. “Some who are now in the third grade are reading at kindergarten level.”

I Have a Dream Foundation supporters hope that giving youngsters resources to help them succeed will help break the cycle of poverty in under-resourced families.

“These kids have underperformed for various reasons but they all have the potential to thrive. We saw 75 percent of our students move from below literacy level to above over the past year.” Rose-Lewis said.

 
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Students start their writing exercise with the words, “My family is important to me because….”
 

The afterschool program is not all hard work and no play. Once a week children go to Idaho BaseCamp in Bellevue where they get to hang around farm animals, walk in the woods and learn about nature. A few  avail themselves of equine therapy at Swiftsure Ranch.

And all create art projects and participate in community service to learn to give back. They work on self-regulation skills, learning to respect the boundaries and rules of others, while reflecting on how their behavior impacts others. They also play lots of games.

“Board games teach them math without them knowing they’re learning,” said Rose-Lewis. “And the events we do with their families help build trust.”

One hundred percent of the 45 Dream Scholars who started with the program in third grade in 2012   graduated this past year. They were joined by 10 Lewis Scholars—additional students who were added to the fold in the last few years.

Most of the graduates have gone on to colleges and universities, trade and vocational schools, military service or apprenticeships. And they are still in contact with I Have a Dream, which guaranteed them tuition support upon graduation.

I Have a Dream Foundation recently received a $100,000 grant to develop summer trade school camps for students interested in careers in such fields as construction.

“Our goal is to continue to add a new cohort of students each academic year and our long-term goal is to support students in every grade, and every school, in Blaine County, and we will continue our commitment to collaborative partnerships that serve hundreds more students each year,” said Rose-Lewis..

WANT TO HELP?

I Have a Dream Foundation-Idaho is seeking adult mentors interested in supporting and guiding Dream Scholars. Mentors will spend time each week with Dream Scholars helping to engage them in meaningful enrichment activities. To learn more, contact Kris Stoffer at kris@ihdfidaho.org.

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