Sunday, July 16, 2006

White guilt inspires ‘I Have a Dream’ Foundation of Charlottesville: Goal for at-risk students is college, not safety or justice

“Living down here, and living in Garrett with some children who aren’t so nice, I had to be late for work so I could watch him get to the bus stop so he wouldn’t get beaten,” Charlotte Stinnie recalled. “Finally … we got security guards to watch the kids get on the bus.”

Turning around pupils' lives

By Sarah Barry, Daily Progress staff writer, July 16, 2006

First of two parts.

Dashaun Blakey was a skinny, gap-toothed first-grader when he first became a Dreamer. Already tall for his age, the 6-year-old wanted to be a basketball player. Then he wanted a scooter and a bike - in that order.

Although his dreams seemed simple, Dashaun’s mother remembers having to work hard to protect her son from the violence he saw growing up in public housing.

“Living down here, and living in Garrett with some children who aren’t so nice, I had to be late for work so I could watch him get to the bus stop so he wouldn’t get beaten,” Charlotte Stinnie recalled. “Finally … we got security guards to watch the kids get on the bus.”

Having been raised in Friendship Court - formerly Garrett Square - Dashaun was becoming angry and confused, with peers telling him that he had to fight, while his mother told him he shouldn’t.

“He didn’t know what to do,” Stinnie said. “I think he had so much frustration from trying to behave because of where he was at, because of where he grew up.”

For the last six years, the I Have a Dream Foundation of Charlottesville has worked with Stinnie and other parents to ensure that 64 city students have every opportunity to go to college and make their dreams come true. Since 2000, the program has provided tutoring, counseling, summer and after-school programs, and it will offer funding and help with scholarships for in-state college tuition for any of the participants with the grades and desire to go.

“We started out six years ago with the idea that we would provide for these great kids a system of cultural, academic and social enrichment programs,” said Chris Poe, a financial adviser who co-founded the program with Jeff Gaffney, the chairman of Real Estate III Independent. After consulting with local school officials and several community-based organizations, the two men selected the entire class of first-graders at Clark Elementary.

Helping the neediest

Clark was seen as the school with greatest need, where 74 percent of students qualified for the free or reduced-price lunch program. “It was unbelievable that we were the No. 1 city in the U.S. and yet had an elementary school with almost an 80 percent poverty rate,” Poe said.

The two men hired a project coordinator to support the students in and after school. Erica Lloyd, who has been the coordinator since 2002, helps the students with their homework and projects, monitors their performance in class and provides a listening ear.

“There are times when I go into class just to kind of support their behavior and their performance,” Lloyd said. “That’s the guts of the I Have a Dream project - the long-term relationship with the kids.”

For Dashaun and fewer than half a dozen other students, Lloyd has held a study hall where the students could come to her office and work on their assignments.

Dashaun said his grades improved after he started meeting with Lloyd - “a lot better.” Earlier in the semester, Dashaun was getting Ds in two of his six classes. But after starting regular study halls, his grades improved so that Dashaun passed with all As, Bs and Cs.

The program, Lloyd said, has not turned each Dreamer into a straight-A student. In 2003, when the Dreamers at Clark took their Standards of Learning tests, the third-graders had a 45 percent passing rate on the English portion. The state average was 71 percent. On the math portion, 49 percent of Clark third-graders passed, while the state average was 83 percent.

These scores weren’t any worse than the previous or subsequent years, but they weren’t any better, either. “Generally, we’re on pace with the Charlottes-ville student body as a whole,” Lloyd said. “We have kids in the highest honors classes and then we have kids that are struggling through the lowest. The majority are in the middle. But it’s the kids who are in the middle, who are sitting on the fence that we really feel I Have a Dream can push over the edge to being successful.”

One reason Stinnie believes the program has been particularly beneficial to Dashaun is the consistency it has provided him. “They started with Dashaun at such a young age,” she said. “He doesn’t have to worry about meeting a different person each year.”

A personal touch

Todd Brown, who taught Dashaun’s English class at Walker Upper Elementary, said just in this last school year, he watched Dashaun’s schoolwork steadily improve. “Before, it was difficult to get him to sit through a 10- or 15-minute reading period,” Brown said. Now, Dashaun can not only read through the 25-minute period, but occasionally didn’t want to put his book down when it was over.

“He’s matured at an amazing rate,” Brown said. Dashaun has become a tall, quiet rising seventh-grader. “He used to get in trouble in school and he used to have difficulties, but he’s overcome all that and come a long way.”

Stinnie said her son is also helping out more at home. “Two years ago, I couldn’t even get him to pick up a cloth to wash one cup,” she said. Now, Dashaun cleans his room without being asked and lends a hand with his younger siblings. “He’s been doing nothing but getting better and better; he’s actually growing up the way I’d want him to grow up,” Stinnie said.

She believes a large part of the improvement is because of Erica Lloyd - “I love Erica Lloyd,” she said - but she also believes that Dashaun’s relationship with the co-founders has been important.

Already proud accomplishments

When the Dreamers were younger, Gaffney organized a soccer camp each summer that Dashaun used to play in. Now, Gaffney and Poe play a weekly basketball game with some of the boys.

“I am a 41-year-old man, and when I’m out there playing against Dashaun, I am trying my hardest and I am not getting past him all the time,” Gaffney said. “He’s become a leader, he is the alpha male. To have seen him evolve into that leadership role, that’s when I think we’re doing something here.”

Dashaun’s athletic prowess and emerging self-confidence also have made him more of a role model at home, Stinnie said.

“The whole backyard will be full of kids and they look up to Dashaun,” she said. “He deserves it, though. … He had to go through a whole lot to get where he is now.”
Dashaun still dreams about becoming a basketball player, but he also thinks about becoming a lawyer. “I just want to help people,” he said.

He also wants to go to the University of Virginia, in part so he can stay close to home. “I want to visit my mom a lot,” he said.

Gaffney is excited that some of the students are even thinking about college and career plans. “The college thing is still light years away even though it’s really just around the corner,” he said. He knows it will take massive fundraising and a great deal of academic and social support to get the students through high school and into college. “But for sixth-graders, it’s a victory for us that they are even talking about it.”

Analysis by the new media

Bias reveals itself not in the actual coverage, but in the omission of related truths.

"Having been raised in Friendship Court - formerly Garrett Square - Dashaun was becoming angry and confused..."

The rock star Prince changed his name to "the artist formerly known as Prince," but not to "the artist formerly Prince." Friendship Court and Garrett Square are different names for the same, identical housing project, which opened in 1979.

Garrett Square was named after Alexander Garrett, first bursar of UVA and present at Monticello when Thomas Jefferson died. His Oak Hill farm began to be developed in the 1860s. Charlottesville's first public school opened in 1870 on Garrett Street. Because of the controversy and illegality of urban renewal, people usually speak as if housing projects were built on open space.

A more truthful statement might be: Friendship Court, formerly a neighborhood developed beginning in the 1860s, seized under eminent domain following a 1967 city referendum, and razed in phases during the 1970s. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that new houses near blighted houses could be seized for private use. On June 23, 2005, the same court ruled that economic development justifies eminent domain for private use.

In 1789 the United States ratified the U.S. Constitution, which allows only due process to seize property for private use. In recent years, courts have ruled that public use and private use have the same legal meaning.


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