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Coronavirus Forces 'Urban Boarding Experience' For Dallas ISD Students To Do More

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - An innovative effort to support Dallas ISD students after the school day ends has had to pivot in the face of COVID-19.

For At Last! that means providing even more services.

"What Covid-19 has done, it has expanded the home life portion of the school day," says At Last! Founder & CEO Randy Bowman. "Now, for those who are choosing remote learning, the home life day is 24 hours.That's been a fairly big shift."

It's a big shift and a new challenge for At Last! billed as an "urban boarding experience."

Launching with grades 3 and 4, selected students attend their neighborhood schools, but live on the At Last! campus during the week.

Evenings are filled with tutoring, life skills, learning support, free time, regular meals and bedtimes.

"Stability," reiterates Bowman, "and really resources. It's the kind of resources that people truly take for granted, when it's been part of their life. It's the kind of resources that our families can't take for granted, because they aren't typically present. And they're critical to learning."

The founding principal of At Last! is that students will perform better in class, if they have more and equitable resources for the hours that they are not.

At Last! broke ground on House One in April 2019 near South Oak Cliff High, promising to break down some of the walls erected by poverty.

Bowman, a product of DISD and a successful attorney turned businessman spent years researching the effort to address what he calls a "lived issue" saying at the time, "that was my mother, and someone has to send that child whose mother is struggling, the message that the rest of us, still care about you."

At Last! was still on track to complete House One later this fall, and then COVID-19 hit changing everything.

At Last! rendering
At Last! rendering (credit: At Last!)

They are reducing the number of boarding students in the inaugural class, and are also pivoting to provide school day support to effectively access learning online, responding to the needs of families.

"Those grandparents are in that high risk category," says Bowman. "They can't just willy nilly send their kid to the school, if they're not confident that that kid is going to be okay. Because you're playing with your LIFE and that's too big of a role of the die."

The same lack of resources that make students candidates for At Last!'s Scholars in Residence program, would also mean they would likely struggle to access online coursework.

"They don't have a space in the house to set up a place to learn, they don't have the connectivity for it. Don't have the resources to go out and create that," says Bowman. "We, on the other hand, have enough space for the At Last! Scholars to have social distancing, to have connectivity."

The Oak Cliff nonprofit has already been asked to consider expanding the remote learning support to others in the community.

Bowman says with enough resources and time to plan, it is something he would consider, but only after a successful launch of AtLast!'s core program, saying her understands too many parents are faced with an "impossible choice."

"Do I go to work during the workday so that my kids will have a roof over their heads? Or do I stay home to insure that my kids are getting an education. That's an impossible choice."

Bowman says "well resourced" families aren't forced to choose, so neither should those in Oak Cliff.

AtLast! is still planning to launch later this fall and remaining scholar slots will be filled with a lottery.

"We want all impoverished children to have their best possible shot at success," says Bowman.


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