Posts By: Abbie Schaefer

Profiles in Leadership: Dr.Amy Cashwell, Henrico County Public Schools Superintendent

Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges for you during this time, and what has been your perspective as you approached those challenges?

A: The biggest challenge has been ensuring that despite the circumstances created by the pandemic, we continue to serve our core purpose and mission to provide a quality educational experience, and the supports needed, for each and every student to be successful.  In order to continue our essential work, with this core purpose at the forefront, we’ve had to rethink, reimagine and redesign almost every aspect of our operations.  While this has been daunting, keeping focused on our goal to serve our students, which hasn’t changed as a result of the pandemic; we’ve been able to remain steadfast in our efforts (though they have been exhaustive) and to adapt and be nimble during what has been a fluid and ever-changingsituation.  

Q: We know that in challenges, we find opportunity. What are some of the opportunities you and your team have seen and embraced? What positive elements have come from that?

A: The manner in which we were able to work as a team to overcome so many challenges, such as food distribution and a shift to remote learning in very short order, reminded us that when we remain focused on a shared collective goal and bring innovative thinking to the table, together we can accomplish fantastic things.  We’ve also discovered that there is value in some of the practices and procedures we’ve developed to be responsive to the current situation, that will likely continue to hold value into the future and change the way we serve our students and families for the better. For example, our family and community engagement team took their family learning series  “virtual” and found that attendance at their sessions was vastly higher than many of the in-person events.  I’d bet that virtual sessions will remain a  viable and effective strategy going forward in our effort to reach all families.  And, then, I hate to mention it, but “snow days” or inclement weather days may never be seen in quite the same way.  Virtual learning from home when snow or ice keeps students away from our classrooms for prolonged periods may assist us in ensuring valuable instructional time is not lost.

Q: In what ways are you most proud of your team as they navigate an already challenging field of education during a global pandemic?

A: I truly couldn’t be prouder of the HCPS team.  They are simply the best.  Their dedication to serving our students and community hasn’t wavered.  From the hundreds of thousands of meals lovingly prepared and served; to the thousands of devices and hot spots distributed in record time; to the amazing innovative ways our teachers are delivering quality virtual instruction, I remain humbled to be a part of such a dynamic team.  In addition, the many efforts of our administrators and central support teams both on the front lines and behind the scenes have been heroic.  And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how proud I am of our students and their families for the role they have played in meeting the challenges of virtual learning.  

Q: How have community partnerships been beneficial during this time?

A: Our community partners have been essential in helping us bridge a number of gaps that were created during this pandemic.  They are providing nutrition (beyond our school meal program) to families in need, providing financial support for us to get internet service to those in need, and assisting in providing quality supervised childcare programs to students during the virtual learning school day.  We simply couldn’t accomplish our goal of providing students the support they need to be successful without them.  Our reach is expanded and our efforts are more robust thanks to our generous and highly engaged community partners. 

Q: What are you most looking forward to?

A: I’m most looking forward to a time when we can have more of our students in-person. There is no way to measure how much we miss seeing them on a regular basis at our schools. 

Honoring Alan Diamonstein

In honor of the late Alan Diamonstein, a true champion of An Achievable Dream who passed away last October, An Achievable Dream received more than $11,000 in donations in his memory. With these memorial donations, An Achievable Dream has created the Alan A. Diamonstein Memorial
Fund and the Alan A. Diamonstein Scholarship. Two annual scholarships, each in the amount of $500, will be awarded to two students each year who are planning to attend the University of Virginia.

Since beginning his political career, Alan Diamonstein was a tireless and passionate advocate for education, racial and socioeconomic equality, and women’s rights, to name a few. He provided many years of wise counsel as both a friend of AAD founder, Walter Segaloff, later attorney and board member for AAD, and as mentor and dear friend to current AAD president and CEO, Dr. Vreeland.

Mr. Diamonstein’s 34 years representing Newport News in the Virginia House of Delegates were spent connecting people, building relationships, and working ceaselessly to make the world and our region a better place. When once asked his greatest hope, he replied “That people understand each other, appreciate each other, and work with each other.”

During his long and distinguished career, he fought for greater state investment in higher education, backing legislation to allow the admission of undergraduate women to the University of Virginia (where he was an alumnus) and supporting bills to increase funding for the public university system’s general operations and student aid. He was a champion not only of education and women’s rights, but the rights of minorities and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds as well. He helped create the Virginia Housing Development Authority to help low-income residents obtain affordable housing and used his in influence to push for diversity, placing women and minorities on state boards and commissions. In the 1960s, he was an outspoken proponent of the desegregation of Newport News schools, in spite of many local politicians strongly opposing it.

Yet, Mr. Diamonstein’s passion and activism was not limited to the State Capitol. He was energetically and passionately engaged with An Achievable Dream since the program’s founding. He loved the students, loved to visit the school, and loved tond creative and impactfulways to support the program and its families.

Mr. Diamonstein would frequently say that experience and exposure to the world are the most important opportunities a student could have. This past school year, to commemorate that vision and provide Dreamers with opportunities to experience the world beyond our local community, the Diamonstein Memorial Fund also helped two UVA Dreamer alumni, Janeen Graves and Najla Mills, travel to Africa to study abroad. Janeen and Najla traveled through different parts of Ghana learning about the cultures and conditions that emerged following colonization. They toured historical sites such as Assin Manso in Kumasi, both the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles in the Cape Coast Colony, and the W.E.B. DuBois center in Accra. Experiencing these sites were essential to their cultivated understanding of The Year of Return and what it means within the African diaspora.

“It means so much to the Diamonstein family to know that Alan’s lifelong passion for education and equitable opportunities for all students lives on through this scholarship fund,” shares Beverly Diamonstein, wife of the late Mr. Diamonstein. “We are incredibly proud of the Dreamers and we know Alan would be too.”

Mr. Diamonstein’s legacy and commitment to education will continue to live on through our Dreamers to whom he was so dedicated. “We know many, many students have been touched by Alan’s hard work and unending dedication over the years,” shares Dr. Vreeland. “And we know it does not end here.

His memory and legacy are alive and well at the Dream, and I know Alan would be immensely proud not only of the Diamonstein Scholarship recipients, but of each and every one of our Dreamers as well. Theirs are the bright futures he worked to make possible every day.”

Meet Keziah Scott, Class of 2020

If you ask Keziah Scott’s friends and family to describe her, you’ll likely hear some of thefollowing words: Funny. Self-confident. Encouraging. Joyful. Helpful. Social. “I’m always looking to cheer and build other people up. And oh — I’m a morning person. If it’s 7:30 in the morning, I am the brightest thing in the room!”

Keziah graduated in June 2020 from An Achievable Dream Middle and High School. “Sometimes I can’t believe I graduated, I don’t feel any different. But I wake up in the morning and see my cap and gown hanging on my door and realize… I really did it.” Although graduation looked different for the Class of 2020, Keziah describes it as a great ending, regardless of what’s happening with COVID–19. “At the end of the day, even though we had to go on stage individually, I still saw my friends and got to celebrate with them. It was a great happy ending.”

In the fall, Keziah will head to Virginia State University where she will be studying music and visual arts with a future goal of becoming a music producer and eventually owning her own record company. Her plan is long-range. Her main goal after getting her bachelor’s is to go back to school for a business degree and begin building her client base in the recording industry. “I tell my friends, this journey is going to take a while and it doesn’t come free, so I’m going to work hard and slowly build the equipment and everything I need to succeed.” Keziah’s love for music and writing is the backdrop for her career goals, and she grew up with a musical family. Her father’s best friend has an in-home recording studio where she’s spent time laying down tracks.

Her journey with An Achievable Dream began in the first grade. “Everything motivated me, from the morning program to my teachers and the whole environment. I wasn’t super talkative. I kept to myself a lot. AAD brought me out of my comfort zone and helped me realize that I couldn’t keep to myself all the time because then how would I realize all the opportunities out there for me?” She gained confidence, making friends who are now more like brothers and sisters.

She speaks fondly of two staff members whose impact will always stay with her. “Ms. Gofney was my trigonometry teacher. She helped me bring out my true potential. I didn’t really consider myself a math person, but I’m actually good at it. Ms. Gofney helped me take it seriously. She helped motivate me and made me realize that it mattered. And Coach Overbey. She has been with me since day one. If I needed help, she was there. If my family needed help, she was there. She has been a great mentor, there every step of the way, always worrying about me, always keeping track of me. And she continues to worry about me and keep track of me!”

Although Keziah’s high school journey had plenty of obstacles — including helping support her family when her father was injured and out of work for a year — she continued to work hard, and received the Clif Hannah Memorial Scholarship her senior year. “This scholarship means a lot to me because it shows the faith that people have in me and it will allow me to attend college.”

“If I had to describe my time at An Achievable Dream in just a few words, I would say… phenomenal journey.”

And an important thing you should know about her? “I’m going to be great one day.”

Keziah’s story appears in our 2019/2020 annual report.

Click here to view the annual report now!

Profiles in Leadership: Dr. George Parker

Q: What have been the biggest challenges for you during this time?
A: Maintaining safety has always been at the forefront of our thinking and planning. If someone contracted COVID-19 because of something that we initiated, I would feel terrible. As the pandemic began, we were dealing with a disease that, at the time, we did not know much about, but we knew decisions that we were making could literally be life-or-death decisions. We also wanted to continue to provide some level of normalcy for all of our students and provide resources that would help them during this difficult
situation.

Q: What are some of the positive things that you’ve seen during this
time?

A: The most positive thing that I’ve seen during this time is the love and dedication from our staff and also our students’ love for our staff and each other. Those are things that in normal circumstances are easy to take for granted. Seeing the individual interactions that take place, whether on Zoom or other virtual platforms, have really stood out to me.

Q: What are you most proud of as your team has navigated through
this time?

A: The willingness to go above and beyond and the daily dedication of our Child Nutrition Services, security, and bus drivers who kept our meal distribution sites running efficiently have been a blessing to the community, our students, and families. Also our teachers who go above and beyond the requirements in connecting with their students multiple times a day to provide a sense of normalcy and consistency for them. These demonstrations of dedication have been exceptional among our staff.

Q: What community partnerships have been beneficial to NNPS
during this time?

A: We worked very closely with the Library System and Soundscapes who rolled into summer programming and are still trying to find new ways that they can provide opportunities for their students who they no longer see face-to-face. We also worked very closely with the City of Newport news as we transitioned into Phase Two, to bring back some level of childcare and Parks and Recreation. We have also partnered with the Newport News Police Department with our graduation ceremonies, which was a huge puzzle piece as we transitioned toward the end of the year. In addition, we partnered with the World Food Kitchen and the Virginia Peninsula FoodBank, who utilized our food distribution sites to provide additional resources for those who may be in need throughout our community.

Q: Tell us a little more about the tremendous planning that went into the Class of 2020 graduation.
A: First, we surveyed all of our seniors. My student advisory team, SAGE, which includes some AAD students, let me know that it would be a good idea to survey all of our seniors and ask them what would be ideal for them for graduation under these conditions. Overwhelmingly, our seniors indicated that they did not want a solely virtual graduation and that they wanted to walk across a stage in their caps and gowns and have their close family participate in some form of a ceremony. So we put together a program to do just that. Students received their caps, gowns, and regalia and physically attended a program where they had their name called and received their diploma in front of their families in a traditional sense. We were one of the first school divisions in our region to go public with our graduation plans. At the time of the announcement, we were in Phase One and limited to 10 people in a large venue, so we chose Todd Stadium as the venue. Fortunately, we moved into Phase Two which allowed 50 people to properly social distance together in a large venue, and we were able to have the ceremony live as well as livestream it on our Newport News Public Schools TV channel. This was an important tradition that we did not want to take away from our seniors.

Q: What opportunities do you see in the future of education post-pandemic?
A: With every challenge, there is opportunity. The opportunity from COVID-19 is that we are training a significant population of our students and our staff to become accustomed to a virtual learning environment. Teachers are getting more familiar with providing virtual learning instruction and continuing to build their skill set. Our 1-to-1 device initiative will also be expanded to grades 6-12 next year to train our teachers and prepare our students for a blended or virtual learning environment next year. Even when we are back to whatever “normal” will be, some of our instruction will be both face-to-face and online. This gives us flexibility to make adjustments at the secondary level. Elementary will follow suit as appropriate, as devices become available, but with elementary students, there needs to be another level of engagement that you can’t duplicate with an online format, so we will have to factor that in as well. As we move forward into the new school year, we must make sure that we are able to reach not only some students, but all as we begin teaching new curriculum as well.

Casey Auto Group provides career experience for AAD alumni

[Pictured above: AAD alum, Markel Wiggins, sanitizes entrance at Casey Volkswagen.]

An Achievable Dream has always had a wonderful relationship with Art Casey and Casey Auto Group. This summer, Mr. Casey took a challenge and turned it into an opportunity for An Achievable Dream alumni! With the pandemic, extra emphasis was placed on sanitation and cleanliness at all Casey dealerships. To tackle this project, Mr. Casey hired eight AAD alumni to sanitize door handles, waiting areas, and other high-traffic areas of the dealership to ensure customer safety and comfort in the dealerships.

The initial group of alumni were so successful that Mr. Casey hired additional alumni as well! These alumni were given the nickname of the “Casey Sanitation Crew” and they immediately made a great impression on all who came in contact with them in their roles. These students’ strong work ethic translated so well in the dealerships that additional opportunities in the parts department and customer service center were also made available to the alumni employees!

Jordan Alston is one alum who now works in the parts department at Casey Chevrolet, assisting with call-in orders, inventory checks, and even driving the parts truck. “An Achievable Dream helped prepare me. I learned to pay attention to detail. An Achievable Dream also taught me integrity. Here we have the freedom to do what we want at our own pace, but because of the integrity that we learned, we do our work promptly,” Alston said. “It’s like having the perfect last name. It makes a lot of things possible, a lot of doors open because they already know we’re awesome because we went to An Achievable Dream. I’ve always heard to network, but here I’ve learned the importance. We have met a lot of people and they are teaching and helping us with our personal cars as well. This experience reminds me to remember where I came from and connect with it.”

Shirelle Linzy, who works at Casey Toyota said, “It’s very important for me to represent AAD very well in this position because they are the reason I am here and they stand for something greater than me! I am honored to be able to represent AAD.” Our alumni are excelling in their roles at Casey Auto Group and are truly representing AAD well in doing so!

“Casey Auto Group has partnered with An Achievable Dream since its inception. I can truly say that of the things we have done so far, having the graduates of An Achievable Dream intern for us has been one of my favorites,” Art Casey said. “The graduates are customer-facing in our dealerships and they are doing a wonderful job. We are giving them a glimpse into the business side of operations while they are helping us maintain relationships. It’s a win-win.”

28th Annual Tennis Ball – A VIRTUAL Event!

On November 14th, the 2020 Tennis Ball will take place as a VIRTUAL EVENT, and will be “Mask-Eurade” themed. After all, if masks are part of our new normal, we may as well make it fun!

Secure your sponsorship for the 2020 Virtual Tennis Ball, and help us make history. Celebrate with friends… or party from your couch! This year, we are bringing the annual Tennis Ball gala to YOU! Join us for the 2020 Virtual Tennis Ball and help fuel bright futures for our Dreamers! 

For more information about the event and sponsorship opportunities please visit tennisball.org.

Achievements | Summer 2020

The Summer 2020 edition of Achievements is here! Read all about the latest at An Achievable Dream, including our COVID-19 response, and stories of our Dreamers and alumni who are still thriving in the midst of this season!

Casey Auto Group Provides Summer Experience for An Achievable Dream Alumni

An Achievable Dream has always had a wonderful relationship with Art Casey and Casey Auto Group.This summer, Mr. Casey took a challenge and turned it into an opportunity for An Achievable Dream alumni! 

With the pandemic, extra emphasis was placed on sanitation and cleanliness at all Casey dealerships. To tackle this project, Mr. Casey hired six AAD alumni to sanitize door handles, waiting areas, and other high traffic areas of the dealership to make sure customers felt more comfortable about being in the dealership during the summer. 

These alumni were given the nickname of the “Casey Sanitation Crew” and they immediately made a great impression on all who came into contact with them in their roles. These students’ strong work ethic translated so well in the dealerships that additional opportunities in the parts department and customer service center were also made available to the alumni employees!

Jordan Alston is one alumni who had the opportunity to work in the parts department at Casey Chevrolet assisting with call-in orders, inventory checks, and even driving the parts truck. 

“An Achievable Dream helped prepare me. I learned to pay attention to detail. An Achievable Dream also taught me integrity. Here we have the freedom to do what we want at our own pace, but because of the integrity that we learned, we do our work promptly,” Alston said. “It’s like having the perfect last name. It makes a lot of things possible, a lot of doors open because they already know we’re awesome because we went to Achievable Dream. I’ve always heard to network, but here I’ve learned the importance. We have met a lot of people and they are teaching and helping us with our personal cars as well. This experience reminds me to remember where I came from and connect with it.”

Shirelle Linzy, who worked at Casey Toyota said, “It’s very important for me to represent AAD very well in this position because they are the reason I am here and they stand for something greater than me! I am honored to be able to represent AAD.” 

Our alumni have all excelled in their rolls at Casey Auto group this summer and have truly represented AAD well in doing so!

“Casey Auto Group has partnered with Achievable Dream since its inception. I can truly say that of the things we have done so far, having the graduates of Achievable Dream  intern for us this summer has been one of my favorites,” Art Casey said. “The graduates are customer-facing in our dealerships and they are doing a wonderful job. We are giving them a glimpse into the business side of operations while they are helping us maintain relationships. It’s a win-win.”

3 ways you can help AAD students during the COVID-19 crisis

Do you or your family need help or support as a result of COVID-19 closures and quarantines? Email us at information@achievabledream.org and someone from our team will contact you!

As we navigate this season of uncertainty, we know we will need each other more than ever. Our students and their families are strongly affected by the COVID-19 epidemic and accompanying precautions, and the needs vary widely from food, supplies, and academic support. An Achievable Dream will need the support of our friends and partners during this time as we work hard to ensure that our students are still equipped to succeed, no matter what happens. 

Here are 3 ways you can help AAD students and their families during this time:

1. Support our Annual Fund!
Help keep AAD operating by supporting our annual fund. This will be a difficult season as many regular fundraising activities have been interrupted or halted altogether. We don’t know what recovery will look like yet, but we do know that nothing can stand in the way of providing our students with the education, resources and opportunities they deserve!

2. Support our Food for Families fund!
We are providing – and will continue to provide as long as necessary – food, school supplies and hygiene items to our families. The cost of a two-week supply bag is $100. Please consider giving to support this effort! Just $100 can supply food and supplies for a family for two weeks.

3. Support our college students!
Help us support our college students as they navigate this stressful and unexpected change! We are providing food for our college students who are now at home after campus closures, as well as technology support and other supplies needed to complete their coursework.

Dreamers Keep the Music Going!

As a result of all Virginia schools closing due to the COVID-19 crisis, teachers and students are having to think of new, innovative ways to stay connected with lesson plans during this time. This includes all of our Dreamers and staff at our five An Achievable Dream campuses. Although this time is challenging for all, the stories of perseverance by our students and how our teachers and staff go above and beyond to stay connected with them is truly inspiring.

One of the amazing ways that we’ve seen our Dreamers continue their learning during this time is at An Achievable Dream Middle & High School where band director, Mr. Davis, continues to have virtual lessons with band students so that they can continue sharpening their skills while at home.

Upon initially hearing about the school closure, Mr. Davis and students in the band were disappointed and upset to know that all of their performances for the remainder of the year had been canceled, including the Concert State Assessment which was canceled the day before it was to take place. 

“The kids were heartbroken because we had all worked so hard to prepare for the State Assessment. It was my responsibility to continue to encourage them and let them know that this was not the end, and that we would work even harder to prepare for next years’ State Assessment,” Mr. Davis said. 

The next reaction is one that we all can relate to during this time, what would happen next? What could the band students do while not being in school to continue to learn and practice their instruments with the guidance of their teacher? That’s when Mr. Davis implemented the idea of having a virtual band class with his students and their instruments.

“I had a talk with my students and we all decided to keep the class as normal as possible during this time. I did not want the kids to lose any musical techniques that they had learned so far. I really wanted them to keep playing during this time so that when school is re-opened the band program will not be behind.”

In the virtual band lessons, the students are tasked with learning a brand new scale or reviewing older scales on a weekly basis. Students also have to complete music exercises in their method books. Mr. Davis then provides a video lesson for the students in conjunction with the method book so that they can better understand the musical techniques that are being taught.

“I try to motivate my students by implementing fun ways for them to learn their scales and musical techniques. In the future I will task the kids to have Zoom sectional practices to make sure they are still playing as a section together so that we can continue to grow as a band,” Davis said.

Although this is a difficult time for so many, including our Dreamers and their families, seeing our teachers continuing to interact with their students even while being at home and seeing our students continuing to push themselves to learn is truly inspiring. We can all take this lesson and use it as motivation to continue accomplishing our own personal goals during this time!

“This time has shown me how resilient my band students are and how they continue to become better musicians on their own,” Davis shared. “I am truly thankful for my students and if this experience has shown me anything, it’s to not take what we do in the classroom for granted once we do return.”