K-12 Education

Building Pipelines of Opportunity

April 8, 2019  • Dan Porterfield

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered the below remarks at an event hosted by DREAM Charter School in New York, NY on April 8, 2019. Follow him on Twitter @DanPorterfield.

Thank you to Rich Berlin and the entire DREAM team for organizing today’s launch of the DREAM Learn, Play, Grow strategy. When I was president of Franklin & Marshall College, I had the opportunity to visit DREAM with our shared trustee Joan Fallon and to see firsthand the majestic summer program for about a thousand students built to mitigate the phenomena of summer learning loss. It’s inspiring to be back as you seek now to increase significantly the number of students DREAM serves while scaling the ideas of your work well beyond the DREAM programs themselves.

DREAM and Franklin & Marshall College have a lot in common. We both seek to provide the very best educational experience to students who are counting on it. At Franklin & Marshall College we embarked upon a strategy to grow our impact that has a lot in common with what you’re announcing today.

First, we tripled our financial aid budget and built pipelines to great schools serving talented lower-income students like DREAM, and then with a great deal of data showing the success of those students, we went to Michael Bloomberg and asked if Bloomberg Philanthropies would help us think about a model for growth.

Franklin & Marshall College couldn’t double its size like you are doing, but, supported by Mayor Bloomberg, we could create a coalition of leading colleges and universities all committed to competing together to ensure that 50,000 more lower income students are able to enroll in and graduate from our institutions by the year 2025. That was the growth strategy that led us to create the American Talent Initiative, which in just two years has propelled 7,291 more high-talent, low-income students into the finest colleges in the country.

That was our strategy to scale. Yours is unique to your circumstances, but I like it a lot and it is going to work.

The reason I say that is because the fundamentals of DREAM are what the nation’s schools and communities and students need. As you double your size and prove the possible, you will inspire allies, fellow travelers, and admirers to join you, perhaps implementing your ideas in ways relevant for their local circumstances. The power of your example and your ideas is like the Big Bang—and the trace elements of all the ingredients that DREAM has brought together will be seen in new schools and programs you will have helped to create with the actions you are taking today.

As many of you know, DREAM is not just a promising model but a prudent practice for difference-making for young people in our society. Taken together, DREAM’s model and practice are strengthening our democracy by educating, engaging, and empowering talented students to be stewards of our society.

You can imagine how excited I was when I started just under a year ago as President and CEO of the Aspen Institute to learn that DREAM is a strong partner of our Sports & Society Program, which works with organizations and communities across the country to create a culture of sport that is focused on health, wellness, and lifelong learning. The Sports & Society Program is spreading the idea that DREAM knows to be true: that sports are where young people pick up the lessons that are critical to democracy and civil society, to families and communities, to the greater good and the common good.

Just two months ago, the Aspen Institute issued a definitive report on social, emotional, and academic development called “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope.” We have copies available for you here today. The report presents the science showing that children’s learning is enhanced when the adults in their lives emphasize social and emotional wellbeing as the foundation upon which academic learning sits.

This, to me, is a call to, and a reminder of, an old and eminent tradition of education called cura personalis—care for the whole person. This is what the best schools do.

The best schools have a child-centered culture where students are treated as assets and educated holistically with their social and emotional needs cultivated as the foundation upon which academic learning grows.

The best schools have dedicated teachers who plan purposefully, invest their students in learning, and care to create demonstrable growth, not in some students but in all.

The best schools have a readiness to engage families as partners in the education of the young and see students as pillars of their future communities and people who can act positively upon the world.

And the best schools have cutting edge curricula, the resources to help students in crisis, evening and summer programming, and school leadership that will never rest when it comes to empowering the young with education.

All of this is necessary for the future of this city and the future of this country and it is present right here, in beautiful human form, in DREAM.

It is especially exciting to me to envision the students and families in the communities where DREAM works—East Harlem, South Bronx, and Newark…

Where some students are breadwinners for their families, and other are caregivers for sick parents or younger siblings;

Where mom might be working two jobs, including one at night;

Where dad is doing his homework at the kitchen table alongside the kids to improve himself and his children’s future, financially and through his example;

Where grandpa or an older sibling is the one who signs the permission slips because that is who is at home;

Where “home” is a person or people or pillow that conveys comfort, safety, and love.

When 43 percent of American students come from families with low incomes, an obvious x-factor to whether they get to experience life in the economic and social mainstream is whether they are empowered with an outstanding pre-college education.

And that’s exactly what happens here.

When parents and caregivers are partners in the education of young people, as DREAM welcomes them to be, you amplify your institutional impact by expanding into the community an ownership stake in the future. When you teach the whole person, when you include the people who love young people in their education, you understand the big picture: talent is evenly spread through every zip code in America, but opportunity is not.

In serving people like this, you are putting FUEL in their dreams—Finding, Underwriting, Educating, and Launching.

DREAM is FINDing talent by scaling throughout the metropolitan New York region and working to “establish high-quality, high-impact sites” nationally.

DREAM is UNDERWRITing students’ education by making sure that parents and communities are invested and partners in the success of their children. DREAM is developing new partnerships with those who are invested in the needs of young people in their community and who are the future of our country.

DREAM is EDUCATing by putting innovative and empathetic teachers and leaders in positions to help students succeed in and out of the classroom. DREAM welcomes students to discover their own identities and interests and become their best selves. That’s only possible when good teachers are empowered to nurture, inspire, and catalyze discovery and integrate social, emotional, and intellectual development.

DREAM is LAUNCHing students into opportunity by building a college-going culture and making sure there aren’t any leaks or blockages in that pipeline from Pre-K to post-grad.

The talent is out there, we just need to provide the FUEL young people need to get from where their talent sits to where their potential can blast off. We must nurture the natural talent across America—our nation depends on it.

DREAM’s approach is unique among organizations in the country. It is integrating the learning that happens in play with the learning that occurs in the classroom. It is demonstrating how sport teaches skills like teamwork and perseverance that translate to success and persistence in the classroom. That approach is working and that culture of inclusion, inspiration, and empathy is spreading.

We know this because of young people like Tamara, who started at DREAM as a Pre-K student nervous about starting school but found a supportive environment fostered by teachers and peers. Here, Tamara discovered something about herself—she loved to perform! What a revelation for a young person, to find her joy and to have it celebrated at an early age. Tamara finds at DREAM a stage where she can be herself—a performer and director at heart—and include friends, peers, and teachers as she transforms playtime into performance: delivering the morning weather report, sharing a meal at a fancy restaurant, exploring a lush park that blooms along the neural pathways of her imagination.

We know the approach is working because for the past three years, DREAM Charter School has outperformed the District, City, and State in New York State Tests.

We know the approach is working because DREAM scholars are finding success getting into and persisting in college.

The proof is in the numbers: since 2015, 100 percent of students in DREAM college access and college persistence programs have graduated high school. 100 percent. More impressively, each of those students matriculated to college. 100 percent. And DREAM’s Summer Bridge program is an essential tool in promoting persistence when students get to college by helping them begin to navigate the lifestyle challenges that come with college and cashing some of the social and cultural capital that can make the path through college, to graduation, and to economic security and stability a little smoother.

By building that pipeline of success, by equipping students with the social, emotional, intellectual, and teamwork skills they need to overcome challenges, seize opportunities, dream big, and be successful, DREAM is building a more free, just, and equitable country.

Its model is growing, expanding, helping more students, and influencing more educators. And it is reminding this city and the country that education is the antidote to cynicism because education creates freedom. Education fosters equality. Education expands justice. It gives individuals the gift of their own abilities and thus the chance to make life-defining personal choices; it gives communities the gift of activated citizens and thus the chance to make life-enhancing collective choices. It gives us the space to move beyond the limits of what we know and imagine what we can become, as individuals, as communities, and as a country. Education frees us to dream the impossible and gives us the intellectual tools and mindsets to make it reality.

Thank you and good luck on this next chapter of your journey.