Next school year, a first-of-its-kind boarding project will open in Dallas. "At Last" breaks ground sometime in the next few months, and organizers say it will give impoverished kids the after-school support they often can't get at home.
On a vacant lot across from South Oak Cliff High School, there are signs of change. Pink ribbons from a recent surveyor's visit glimmer new in contrast to the trash that litters the landscape. Soon it'll all be replaced with the first building of an idea dreamed up by Dallas businessman Randy Bowman to fix what he calls a broken urban education system.
"What we're going to provide them is anything that would typically be present in a home that has middle-class resources in it," Bowman said. "Historically the way it's played out is that if you have the benefit of a suite of middle class resources behind you, you tend to perform well in school."
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In his master plan, Bowman says the students in grades one through six enrolled in the program would arrive at "At Last" on Sunday nights. They'd come back every day after school until Friday morning, when they'd be free to go back home for the weekend.
"Because impoverished parents love their kids just as much, and they make tremendous sacrifices to give their children a better future, they're going to say, 'I am willing to make the sacrifice to have my child be in that program five days a week, so I can have my child's future be what their future should be,'" Bowman said.
He's talking about parents like single mom La Tonia Wilson.
Wilson, a mother to four children, works two jobs each day to provide for her family. While drying hair in her salon at night, several hours after leaving the school where she works with students by day, she hopes 10-year-old Triston is taking care of himself at home.
"Hopefully he's had dinner. We do frozen pizza. Something he can pop in the microwave," Wilson said.
She also relies on him to get his homework done, which she won't be able to check until she gets home around 10:30 p.m.
"I've got to now get everyone in the shower. I've got to get everyone to bed. I'll get a text the next day that Tristan didn't turn his homework in, so hopefully the next night we'll get it done," Wilson said.
That's why she believes Bowman's program could make all the difference in her son's future success.
"The purpose of the program is to help every child reach the height of whatever God-given ability they have without having family resources act as a barrier. If every child in the program is able to reach their God-given potential, society will be better and this program will have achieved its mission," Bowman said.
Bowman says "At Last" will begin with one home housing 16 kids in third and fourth grade. Students from any school are free to attend, and the program comes at no cost to families who participate. Instead, he hopes to rely on investors and donors to cover the $12,000 it will cost to provide services to each student each year.
Eventually, "At Last" will include four homes, which will house around 15 students each. Bowman says they'll provide services to students in first through sixth grade, because they believe early support is crucial to later success.