Nearly 30 years ago, businessman E. Richard Yulman and Janet Yulman promised to pay for the college education of 97 Sixth Grade students at Albany’s Arbor Hill Middle School. Inspired by the original “I Have a Dream” Program at Harlem’s Public School 121, the Yulmans decided to launch a similar initiative in the Capital Region. The Albany City School District, University at Albany School of Education and CASDA worked together to coordinate and administer the program, develop and implement innovative instructional practices and provide students with resources and opportunities to support sustained academic achievement.
The Albany Dreamer’s Project was formally announced on January 14th, 1988 at the Arbor Hill Elementary School in front of a crowded assembly of students, educators and parents. Prominent politicians also attended the launch, including Albany Mayor Thomas Whalen and New York State Governor Mario Cuomo, who addressed the students. Albany City School District Superintendent David A. Brown said that: “This is a marvelous, exciting opportunity for our sixth-graders and a wonderful development for the Albany school system. There is no doubt in my mind that the lives and futures of these 97 children will be markedly affected by the Yulman’s caring and generosity.” He continued: “When I became Superintendent of Schools, I adopted as my motto ‘Building bridges between school, home and community.’ This is exciting initiative is a wonderful example of bridge building. We look forward to working closely with the School of Educating in implementing the ‘I Have a Dream’ program.” Dr. Robert Koff of the University at Albany stated that “The School of Education is proud to continue its 144-year tradition of public service by assisting the Yulmans and the Albany schools in this great undertaking. Our commitment to strengthening public education and the teaching profession can only be enhanced by the opportunity to implement the ‘I Have a Dream’ program in Albany. As we study the effects of the program over the course of 10 years, we hope to learn much that will help local schools in making decisions that strengthen public education.”
CASDA’s Dr. Nelson Armlin was named the program’s director and charged with “building bridges” between the City School District, School of Education and other organizations to provide the students with an education of the highest quality. As the Capital Region’s most widely connected school study council and field arm of the School of Education, CASDA was perfectly positioned to facilitate effective collaboration and introduce innovative, research-based instructional strategies to the Dreamers Project. Dr. Armlin stated that “the entire focus of efforts is directed finding ways, in collaboration with teachers, parents, school administrators, and the students themselves, to make students more successful in their studies.” CASDA’s insights into the nuances of effective public education and knowledge of local schools provided essential guidance to these efforts.
The benefits of these collaborations were not limited to the 97 students who participated in the “I Have a Dream” Program. Nelson Armlin stated that “the Dreamers Program paved the way for a wide array of enriching programs and opportunities, including the MATHinkers Project.” This initiative, funded by a $600,000 grant from the Eisenhower Foundation to the University at Albany Mathematics Department, aimed to boost achievement while developing “new and effective teaching strategies in mathematics.” The program was team taught by SUNY Albany graduate students in mathematics and Albany High School faculty and focused on “experiment-based math projects, field trips, discussion, cooperative learning and work in computer labs at the high school and at SUNY.” This innovative approach provided significant enrichment opportunities to students and allowed researchers to evaluate their strategy and implement improvements. While this program was initially piloted through a group of 25 Dreamers, Armlin was hopeful that the program could be effectively implemented in other districts. He explained that “the CASDA/University partnership means that the program’s successes will have a broader reach than just one individual classroom.”
The Albany Dreamers project was a unique collaboration among the Yulmans, the Albany City School District, SUNY Albany and CASDA. The scale of its ambition was matched only by the energy and creativity of the individuals who strived to realize the program’s vision. Dr. Nelson Armlin summarized the endeavor by stating that “the Dreamers program encourages the kind of school/university collaboration that can be so fruitful to advancing educational achievement.”