In March 2016, a 4th grader at the Orlando Learning Center told a visiting researcher that he always carried a special drawing on a folded-up piece of paper which he used to calm himself down when he felt angry, a technique learned from Carvel Munroe, the Center Director. Helping young people from high-risk communities, especially those with incarcerated parents, learn strategies to succeed in all areas of life has been the motivating goal of the U.S. Dream Academy since its 1998 inception.
Today, we operate seven Learning Centers across the country in partnership with local schools. Unlike many afterschool programs focused solely on academics or recreation, we address multiple youth developmental needs through our three pillars of Skills, Character, and Dream-Building. Our DreamKids attend daily 3-hour afterschool sessions engaged in constructive activities that support academic, social and emotional growth. DreamKids also have weekly meetings with dedicated mentors.
The Orlando Learning Community is a particularly vibrant member of the thriving Dream Academy family. First established at Memorial Middle School in 2007, we expanded to Catalina Elementary in 2013 and Pineloch Elementary in 2014, and we currently serve 120 students in grades 3-12. Last year our volunteers provided 1,032 hours of mentoring for our youth. Many of Orlando’s mentors are recruited through a local partnership with the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at the University of Central Florida.
Orlando also serves as a pilot site for our DreamTeens program. In 2014, the Dream Academy took a strong step to help ensure our DreamKids graduated from high school. We extended our program to support our former middle school students as they transitioned to Jones, Oak Ridge, and Evans High Schools. Dream Academy staff provide bi-weekly on-site mentoring, arrange college tours and oversee college and career readiness activities. We had a cohort of 87 DreamTeens in grades 9-12, and 47 of 50 students eligible to graduate since 2014 successfully finished on time. Our DreamTeens also gave back – many served as peer mentors for our students at Memorial Middle School.