DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Improving school performance, by tackling the challenges poor students face outside of the classroom. That’s the driving principle behind ‘At Last!’
The Dallas based non-profit is breaking new ground– literally– by offering students in poor communities the opportunity to have what’s called a “boarding experience“, while still attending their neighborhood schools.
“We empower impoverished families to provide their children with the same educational resources and tools that are so often taken for granted by children from better resourced families,” said founder and CEO Randy Bowman.
Bowman, an attorney turned entrepreneur and now social innovator, addressed a power packed crowd of supporters during a morning groundbreaking for the first of three houses that will be built on a lot near South Oak Cliff High. “I couldn’t be more excited about this… I see a good future here for a lot of children, a lot of families.”
“When you grow up in a house that had six people living in it and it’s basically 900 square feet,” says Bowman, “there is no quiet place to study…I am solving a problem that I lived: not one that I heard about.”
It is that kind of lived authenticity and personal passion that ultimately convinced leaders of the Hoblitzelle Foundation to provide the financial backing that helped to move Bowman’s dream to a plan.
“I think we’ve heard a lot of people that want to change the educational system with different educational choices,” says Katie Robbins, President & CEO Hoblitzelle Foundation. “This is the first idea where heard it expressed as just the resources when kids are not in school, and really being a partner with the family during that time and providing the resources that families are unable to provide without a partner helping them.”
The so called ‘scholars-in-residence’, will attend their neighborhood schools and then live on the At Last! campus from Sunday evening through Thursday. After school on Friday, scholars will go home to their families.
“We’re super excited about the transformation it can have here,” says Robbins. “We were so excited that our challenge gift to Randy was a catalyst to bring other founders on board.”
The backing of the Hoblitzelle Foundation was critical in convincing others like the Communities Foundation of Texas to lend financial support as well.
“We saw this as a way to bend the curve on achievement and help children in this community realize their fullest potential,” says Nadine Dechausay with CFT and W.W. Caruth Jr. Fund. “We loved that it was a collaborative project– not looking to reinvent the school that stakeholders have invested so much effort in improving.”
Bowman says it is important to send a clear message to the community’s parents that they are not being replaced with ‘At Last!’ but supported. “That was my mom,” explained Bowman, “and someone has to send that child whose mother is struggling, the message that the rest of us still care about you…and equally important, someone has to send that mother who’s struggling the message that says `you are not alone’.”
Afterschool, the scholars-in-residence will get help with homework and time management, enrichment opportunities, a healthy meal, and regular bedtime: stability, normalcy and local officials say– so necessary.
“We need this 150%,” says Dallas city councilmember Carolyn King Arnold in whose district the first house will be built. “It’s just wonderful to have them as a partner and an investor in our community.”
Although the concept is as yet unproven, supporters say they are confident that the community will be receptive.
Founding Board Member Eddie Reeves in helping Bowman vet his plan says he spent hours in a Walmart parking lot talking to poor parents about what they wanted for their children. He says their responses were more passionate than he expected– but, not surprising.
“They want the same things that parents in North Dallas, Highland Park, and University Park want,” says Reeves, a local marketing executive and business owner, “they want their kids to have a real future and real chance, and that’s what we hope to give them.”
The first At Last! house is expected to be complete by December with the first scholars-in-residence being served by the spring of 2020. The effort will ultimately serve 1st through 6th grade students, initially launching with 3rd and 4th grade scholars the first year and then adding a class each year.
“I see all of these parents as reflections of the mom who is the hero in my life,” adds Bowman. “I knew that she loved me. Her challenge was not a deficit of love…she was just poor.”