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MBA students kick off newest "I Have a Dream" Program to help youngsters earn high school, college diplomas

STANFORD -- Stanford Business School students have launched a program to help 56 elementary school pupils earn high school diplomas and go on to college through the first "I Have a Dream" program organized on a college campus.

In addition to raising $405,000 to help current third and fourth graders at Flood School in nearby East Palo Alto, the Business School sponsors have made commitments to be role models, tutors, and advisers for the pupils through their years before high school graduation. Like the original "I Have a Dream" program launched in 1981 by industrialist Eugene Lang, the Flood School program will fund a social worker to work with the youngsters and will guarantee partial college tuition to those who graduate from high school.

Lang, who proposed the first "I Have a Dream" program at his alma mater, Public School 121 in East Harlem, N.Y., will be in the Bay Area May 17 and 18 to meet with "I Have a Dream" organizers and participants.

The Flood School program is the fourth "I Have a Dream" program organized in the San Francisco Bay Area. The earlier programs, established in 1988 and 1989, are at John Davidson Elementary School in Vallejo, at Sheridan School in San Francisco, and at Peres and Verde Elementary schools in Richmond.

The Bay Area Chapter of the "I Have a Dream" Foundation is part of a national network founded by Lang that operates 141 programs with more than 10,000 pupils. The local chapter coordinates efforts to organize new programs in addition to operating ongoing fundraising efforts.

"In the four years since we started our first program in the Bay Area, we have seen real results," said Lisa Evans, president of the Bay Area "I Have a Dream" Foundation. "Parental support is increasing, and the dropout rate so far is lower than expected. The Flood School program is an important new addition."

The Flood School program grew from an idea MBA student David Michael had during a bus trip in China. "As I was riding through China, I was struck by how many young minds are wasted in the world," said Michael, who tutored in a Vietnamese refugee camp before coming to the Business School. He recalled seeing a television report on Lang's program in New York. "I wanted to make a difference for a group of kids, but I didn't want to wait until I was a retired millionaire," recalled Michael.

In 1990, he launched the fund-raising drive with classmates Peter Dumanian and Nick Folger. All three will receive their MBA degrees next month. A core group of 20 students refined the idea, raised money, and began an intensive tutoring and enrichment program at Flood School.

Both Dumanian and Folger had been involved with programs for minority children before coming to Stanford and were drawn to the "Dream" program because it offered a chance to focus resources on a small group of youngsters - with a better chance of making an important difference.

"I believe that everybody should have an opportunity to make what they will of their lives," said Folger. "I think recent events have shown that there are major portions of our country that don't share in those opportunities. I know that this program is just a dent, a very small contribution to solving an enormous problem, but the feeling that we could band together and make even a small contribution is inspiring."

After the Los Angeles riots, MBA students filled the Business School's auditorium to explore their thoughts. "A lot of us felt an overwhelming sense of despair," recalls Nancy Katz, a first- year MBA student who is a volunteer tutor at Flood School. "People wanted to know what they could do. This is one way we can get people to interact who wouldn't normally do so.

"These kids tell me incredible things when I'm tutoring. It's amazing what these 10-year-olds know and what they deal with every day on the streets," she said.

"Although they may face serious problems, you see the intelligence and capabilities in these kids' eyes," said Folger. "It's imperative that that part of them is nurtured. If they're allowed to develop, they're going to make some great contributions."

One of the goals of the Stanford program is to inspire other business and professional schools to launch similar efforts.

"We've used the ideas we learn at the Business School," said Michael, "how to conceive of and market an idea, how to design an organization, and how to motivate people to kill themselves to make something like this happen."

The student effort has raised enough money to allow the group to pledge college scholarships totaling $4,800 each over four years to the current third and fourth graders. The funds came from Business School alumni, students and faculty, as well as individual and corporate gifts over the past two years. The student fund- raisers themselves contributed $22,000. Fund-raising efforts will continue through an independent, non-profit board, including Business School students, staff, faculty and alumni. The group is now developing a handbook titled How to Establish a Student- Initiated Dream Program.



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