Lincoln program earns praise                            HOME
Dreamers project shows measurable student gains
Monday May 20, 2002                                                                                                                                                                            BIG UGLY

By Dawn Miller

A Lincoln County community effort to teach young people to dream about the future has won national praise from the Pew Partnership for Civic Change.

West Virginia Dreamers of Big Ugly Creek is one of 19 model programs to be identified today in Washington, D.C.

The programs were chosen for Pew's "Solutions for America" initiative. The programs were shown to improve conditions in four areas - healthy families and children, safe neighborhoods, "living wage" jobs and viable economies.

"The Dreamers project is a groundbreaking example of how to teach families to raise their aspirations for their children's lives and make their dreams a reality," Pew Partnership Director Suzanne Morse said in a news release.

"People are excited," said Michael Tierney, director of Step by Step, the Lincoln County nonprofit group that operates West Virginia Dreamers. He planned to visit Washington for the announcement today.

Families who sign up for West Virginia Dreamers agree to participate in organized after-school activities, trips and artistic endeavors. At the end of each semester, children who participate receive a $50 scholarship in an education trust. The money will be available to them after they graduate from high school.

Families who participate for several years could accumulate $300 or more for books and expenses.

"That's important and it's nice, but I think even more important is they've got a group of caring adults saying to them every year: ‘We know you're going to graduate from high school and we know you're going to go on to college or job training,'" Tierney told the Sunday Gazette-Mail last fall.

Parents learn to expect more for their children, and they teach children to expect more out of themselves. They teach children to believe they can realize their dreams.

"It's a very different kind of thinking," Tierney said.

About 250 children participate in the program.

High school and middle school students who might be considered at risk of dropping out of school participate in a "Resiliency Dreamers" group. They interact with a therapist and with AmeriCorps members. They help organize and schedule their own adventure learning and goal-setting activities. Young people may have disabilities or emotional or behavioral problems. They seek the program out themselves, or they are referred by teachers, counselors or parents.

Family members also participate in educational and community service projects. Children and families take trips to museums, musical performances, swimming pools and ballgames, places they did not visit before.

The program was considered promising two years ago. Since then, evaluators were able to measure some improvement in the lives of families:

Students' attitudes toward school and learning have improved. Specific attitudes toward math, reading and science all improved.

Despite background and circumstances, teachers rated students in the program the same as or higher than other children on several measures, such as attending school regularly and on time and making academic progress.

Parents said the program helped children to succeed, and helped them feel more confident and better equipped to support their children.

Save the Children provides scholarship money for the dream contracts. Local elementary schools and Harts High School provide help and space for activities. AmeriCorps members do much of the work.

Twenty-five percent of American children attend school in a rural area or small town, according to the Pew Partnership, based in Charlottesville, Va. Like urban neighborhoods, rural communities are diverse and suffer from poverty, unemployment and weak local economies.

In West Virginia, 25 percent of children are poor. Of the 250 poorest counties in the country, 244 of them are rural, according to the Pew Partnership.