By Jodi Bryant

In 2016, I Have A Dream set out to change the lives of hundreds of Whangarei schoolchildren, many of them living in material hardship, with the goal of abating inter-generational poverty by inspiring dreams and enabling career paths. Jodi Bryant takes a look at how it's tracking…

Back in 1991, USA-based Kiwi Scott Gilmour was casually reading the paper over breakfast when he came across an article about a programme launching in schools to help underprivileged children. He had a vision and over a decade later, Scott's dream came to fruition in New Zealand.

"It just resonated for me so I cut the article out," Auckland-based Scott recalls. "It only took me 12 years to do something with it …!"

Advertisement

Nevertheless, I Have a Dream launched in 2003 at Mt Roskill, Auckland as a pilot programme and was a resounding success. Results were clear; 80 per cent of the 53 students who partook, went on to tertiary study, compared with 30 per cent in the comparison group. The students who took part - 'Dreamers', as they're called – are now aged 24 and have gone on to become doctors, neuroscientists, engineers and designers.

Described as a 'preventative programme, rather than an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff', I Have a Dream helps children from low income communities reach their education and career goals by providing a long-term programme of mentoring, tutoring, career guidance and enrichment. It uses the services of consistent navigators who follow the kids throughout their schooling life, from age five through to the age of 20. This guidance plays a large part in producing positive role-models who add value to their communities, and later increasing economic and social outcomes for the country.

In 2016, the programme was brought to Northland and launched in the decile one suburbs to include both Tikipunga Primary and High Schools, Totara Grove School and Te Kura o Otangarei.

"We knew it worked in Auckland with the pilot project and Whangarei was on the government's radar with some high needs," explains Scott, chairperson on the Board of Trustees.

However, although Whangarei stakeholders and schools had expressed a keen interest for the programme to come north, CEO Ant Backhouse, who moved to Whangarei in 2015 to launch the programme, knew establishing a strong relationship with the community first would be crucial for its success.

"We think the success of the programme is due to the fact we didn't just parachute into a community and say 'We're here to fix your problems'.

"We spent two years coming up here, meeting all the stakeholders in the community, from the marae to the schools, businesses, the mayor and the council and saying, 'Do you feel there is a need for something like this in your community?' We tell them I Have a Dream is not the silver bullet, we are not the waka in this journey, we are the ama; the support or the outrigger to stabilise your journey through the rough seas."

The programme will eventually involve over 1,000 children in Whangarei as it rolls out from Year 1 to year 15 (two years post-high school). There are currently 750-plus Dreamers enrolled in years 1-11 across these schools in the Tikipunga and Otangarei communities and our local kids are thriving under the programme.

Advertisement

Says Ant: "In partnership with the schools, we are already seeing better academic results, more settled and supported students who are ready to learn, increased opportunities for kids, and our Dreamers now have significantly more adult support networks around them to help navigate them towards a brighter future."

In Whangarei there are 11 navigators and one support navigator based on-site at their respective schools. While two of these navigators manage early entrants, from year three, permanent navigators are assigned to follow the same group right through to year 15.

The core mission for the navigators is to help uncover and develop each child's dream and unique capabilities, while encouraging leadership, community participation, sports and improving quality of life.

Scott says the students love their navigators and have a sense of security knowing there are caring and consistent adults supporting them, in addition to their wha¯nau.

"As you can imagine, they form very strong relationships and this is the core strength of our programme. They are a social worker as much as an educator and do whatever it takes to make sure that every one of these children come out of year 13 literate, numerate and with all the social skills to go on to a career or higher education."

Late last year, a New Zealand Herald investigation highlighted the low rates of entry to so-called 'elite' university courses – law, medicine and engineering – of students from low-decile schools. It found just one per cent taking those courses come from the most deprived homes, and only 17 per cent of low-decile students attend university at all, compared to 50 per cent from high-decile schools.

With increasing interest from other communities, the goal is to expand the I Have a Dream programme further throughout New Zealand.

"We want to take the Government with us on this 10–15-year journey, with the intention that they will then roll this out to all high-needs communities in New Zealand," says Scott. "We are very keen for people to pick up our model and put it into fruition."

The I Have a Dream charitable trust is calling out for more volunteers to become mentors. They also need volunteer tutors to help with the afterschool programme and reading, in particular.

Adds Scott: "The good news is volunteers get back a lot of personal enrichment
and enjoyment.  I've always loved the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: 'It is one of
the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another
without helping himself'."

For information about the programme, check out  www.ihaveadream.org.nz