U.S. Dream Academy
Project Category: Child Welfare
Group photo with Solar Bear Mascot.

Photo Caption: Group photo with Solar Bear Mascot.

The U.S. Dream Academy (Dream), established in 1998, is an after school and mentoring organizations serving children of incarcerated parents and vulnerable youth falling behind in school in under-resourced communities. Our founder, Wintley Phipps, recognized that children of incarcerated parents have been collateral damage of mass incarceration, leaving them to serve their own kind of sentence. The increased risks they face can be mitigated with the right supports in place, and Dream creates access to meaningful opportunities to build skills, character, and dreams through developmental relationships with caring adults in Learning Centers in Orlando and six other cities nationwide. We aim to transform lives in under-resourced communities, and our multigenerational approach supports child and parental growth through tailored programs that disrupt cycles of poverty and incarceration.

Parental incarceration is associated with reduced chances of economic mobility, academic achievement, and other negative outcomes, and is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience in itself, distinguished “by the unique combination of trauma, shame, and stigma” (Hairston, 2007). Children of incarcerated parents and youth growing up in poverty have aspirations but face systemic factors that can hinder healthy youth development. Neighborhood public schools are typically under-funded and struggle to meet the multifaceted needs of their students, some of whom manifest their stress and trauma in poor academic performance and/or behavioral problems. These students often lack academic support, have few or no family members who have attended college, and are at higher risk of dropping out of school, which is associated with future incarceration and long-term economic disadvantage.

Dream has served nearly 10,000 students and builds on students’ relationships including parents/caregivers, teachers, and school personnel to create a supportive “village” that addresses academic achievement and opportunity gaps for DreamKids and DreamTeens. We intentionally partner with local public Title I schools with high rates of poverty and serve students in grades 2 – 12 through research-based programming and weekly mentoring. Within the contexts of these challenges these children face, if we expect children to make “better” choices then we must present them with better options.

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