Minute for Mission: Children at Risk

Illinois church helps prepare at-risk boys for success in school

The next time you see a group of young African American boys happily playing in a park, keep that mental picture in your mind. Then consider the statistics suggesting that one of every three boys on that playground will spend time in prison. That’s a sobering reality to ponder and a cause for enormous concern. The school-to-prison pipeline for African American males is a dreadful phenomenon our church is called to help stop.

Most who find themselves in prison have dropped out of school because they sense little hope for the future. Many do not enter school ready to learn and are never able to pursue the opportunities a good education offers. First Presbyterian Church in Champaign, Illinois, is committed to changing that. Its members are leaders in a new community-school partnership that equips at-risk African American boys to enter kindergarten prepared for success in school.

Photo by Jay SchubertThe program is called DREAAM House. DREAAM is an acronym for Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males. One of its premier programs is the DREAAM Summer Pre-K Academy. Teachers are seeing the program’s impact and are vouching for its effectiveness. They appreciate the difference DREAAM is making for students like Markhi.

When tested the spring before he entered kindergarten, Markhi knew only four letters of the alphabet, and teachers were concerned. However, by the time he started his kindergarten year, he knew all the letters of the alphabet and had increased his vocabulary. “This was the most progress that any one student at South Side Elementary made over the summer,” his teacher wrote. “Kudos to DREAAM for its hard work this summer.”

Similar accolades come from the parents of DREAAM students. One parent stated, “I am so grateful to the DREAAM House, because my son learned more letters and words and got to go to a museum, zoo, and a farm.” Encouraged by his son’s positive experience, the parent later took his entire family to the same zoo.

First Presbyterian member Tracy Dace has envisioned a program like DREAAM for several years. Tracy says he and others at the church were “inspired by the strengths of African American boys and compelled by the educational disparities they face.” The next steps for DREAAM include a 4-H after-school program, school-based mentoring, and a Saturday sports program.
Across the United States, Presbyterians are living up to their reputation as an education-minded people. They are helping at-risk students achieve success in school, which will enhance their chances for success in life. Many of the children who struggle in school are among the one in five children in America who live in poverty.

A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) initiative called “Educate a Child, Transform the World” is bringing together Presbyterians across the United States to address educational needs in their communities. At the national level, networks are forming so successful models can be shared, and resources are being produced to help congregations get started in educational outreach.

“Educate a Child, Transform the World” is supported by Presbyterians who give to the Pentecost Offering.

Please give generously to the Pentecost Offering. Your gift will help our church step up its efforts to reach at-risk children.

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