DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Randy Bowman knows well that poverty is a killer of dreams. Somehow, his survived.
But, the successful attorney turned entrepreneur has never forgotten his tough upbringing in Pleasant Grove. Now, he’s launching a ‘never-been-tried’ plan to help others growing up with similar challenges. It’s called At Last!
“The kids will come to At Last!, to the residence on Sunday afternoons around 4 p.m.,” said Bowman. “They will be with us in this residence until Friday when they leave school and they will be back home with their families.”
While at the At Last! residence home, students can explore extracurricular activities. What if a student is into dance, music or sports? They will make it available.
Well-vetted staffers will help with developing “executive functioning” skills — essentially learning to make a plan to be successful the next day — homework, assignments, etc. Students will get support on educational concepts without repeating the school-day curriculum. The evenings will include a good meal, downtime, making contact with parents and getting in bed at a decent hour. It all sounds so normal — unless it’s not.
“Money’s in the mix, food’s in the mix,” said Bowman, “educational resources and tools that most people find to be sort of organic in a home.” Resources that most families, admits Bowman, will take for granted.
“They are often sort of attending to the emergency of the day. This whole notion of planning for tomorrow matters, but it takes a back seat to you having emergencies to attend to today. ‘What clothes will they wear tomorrow? What will they eat tonight? One of these utilities may be cut off.'” And it could be as simple, Bowman says, as having a quiet place to study.
“I grew up in a house that was 800 square feet. If you think you’re going to find a quiet place to study when you have five to six people living in 800 square feet… it’s just not gonna happen,” he said.
At Last! will eventually be available to first through sixth graders. The first residence will launch as soon as this Fall with students in grades three and four.
Bowman is clear in that At Last! will not be a boarding school — but, rather a way to provide additional resources for the hours that students are not in class. He argues that it’s not necessary to replicate what the schools are already doing — students need more support for the 71 percent of the day when they are at home.
“I want to modify the trajectory of impoverished children,” said Bowman while adding that At Last! will give impoverished children access to the same educational resources and tools during their home life, that middle class to affluent kids have. And he insists that he’s not looking to fix broken homes; but, rather to provide equitable resources.
“At Last! needs to be that resource on the shelf for parents who are impoverished, who love their kids and care about their kids as much as anybody else…” Bowman paused and the tone turned personal, as he addsed with emphasis, “my mother loved us as much as anyone could humanly love anything else. So hers was not a love deficit, it was not a care deficit. It was a resource deficit.”
The biggest challenge, he believes, will come not in getting parents to trust “At Last!” with their still young children; but, in getting society to not judge those choices harshly.
“What I hope that we will do, is respect the sacrifice that these parents will have to make as an act of good parenting… that will make their lives better in the future… and not some form of parental abdication,” he said.
Bowman has been working for years on this “after hours” fix for improving performance in urban schools, and he’s already gotten key support in the community.
“I’m excited,” said Pastor Richie Butler, senior pastor at St. Paul UMC, calling At Last! a “transformative” effort that can move the needle in education for the underserved. “We have to make the investment today,” said Pastor Butler, “if not, we will continue to see a generation of kids lag behind, and that’s unfortunate. If we don’t pay the cost today, we will pay down the road.”
Pastor Butler says as he encounters families who would be a good fit for At Last! he will make that recommendation without reservation. And he adds that it’s high time for innovation to enter the arena of urban education. “I believe it will work. The setting is right,” he said.
Bowman is anticipating support from Dallas’ philanthropic community. But, he planted the seeds of this big dream with his own money. Land has already been purchased and he expects to break ground on the first At Last! residence this spring. It is a mission that gives back to the community that shaped him, while also giving his past a greater purpose
“America will never be who she professes to be or aspires to be until every child has an equal shot on a class neutral basis to a common outcome,” said Bowman. “I think At Last! can help to get there… not alone; but, it can help to get there.”