Local nonprofit urges students to dream big

Local nonprofit urges students to dream big

By Jermaine Nolen

Since 2012, nonprofit organization Dream on Education has tried to aid the development of high-achieving sixth to eighth grade students in underprivileged areas in Chicago, according to the program’s founder, Kelli Haywood.

“What we do is provide enrichment services, scholastic development, mentoring, career and cultural exposure,” Haywood said. “We partner with different schools throughout the city, primarily on the South and West Sides, focusing on low income communities. We do a number of activities to challenge the students academically, [and] to also expose them to different sessions, different forms of creative expression and broaden their horizons.”

Haywood said the nonprofit’s mission is to prepare students for success throughout high school and college. Dream on Education partners with Tanner Elementary School in  Chatham, Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park, KIPP Academy in Austin and Prospectives Math and Science Academy in Bronzeville. The organization is hoping to add one more school to its network this year, she said.

“I have a lot of family members and friends [who have] lived in or currently live in low income communities who are really bright, talented people who simply lack access to resources and opportunities,” Haywood said. “There are a lot of young people like that who are really talented [and] have the desire to excel, they simply need that access and opportunity to those resources.”

A large part of the organization’s curriculum is social-emotional development, she said. Organization mentors meet with the students in the program for an hour per week to discuss goals, work ethic and networking activities which focus on standards of excellence and never selling themselves short.

“Our cultural exposure and mentoring [go] hand in hand. We will do things at least every other month where we will take the students on some sort of culturally-enriching experience,” Haywood said. “We [have gone] to dinner at a sit-down restaurant, we’ve done cooking classes, a sketching class lead by Hebru Brantley and fashion design tours of different companies throughout the city.”

Haywood said the cultural exposure programs are usually led by mentors of many backgrounds and industries, giving students the opportunity to learn from and network with a multitude of professionals.

First grade teacher at CICS Basil Elementary School Emily Heck said it is difficult having children who are learning at a rate below or beyond their grade level. She said in situations like these, it is up to the teacher to make material engaging.

“A lot of learning kids do in school is visual, audio or reading and writing, but if you already have a kid who is understanding all of the material and showing you they understand it that way, there are tons of other ways to deepen and broaden [their] understanding,” Heck said.

Junior music business major Kaylin Loer said she was a high-performing junior high school student, but her school did not have honors classes or an honors program. She said if she was pushed to work harder early enough, she could have been a better student and more prepared for college.

“I felt prepared [for college], but I didn’t learn how to study and work hard for a long time because [things were] so easy, so that is something I have had to adjust to,” Loer said.

Haywood said founding the program has been a rewarding experience.

“By the end  of the program, [the students] display a broadened horizon for professions and  understand there is really nothing that they [can’t] do,” Haywood said.