by Aubrey L. Layne Jr.
My first experience with An Achievable Dream Academy is one that I never will forget. I remember shaking hands with Newport News elementary school children and seeing the excitement in their eyes.
Every encounter since further solidifies my belief in the value of this program for our community, and for the future. Its presence in Henrico County is a sign of the community’s dedication to some of our most vulnerable children.
My wife, Peggy, and I have been supporters of the program for almost 20 years — beginning with my serving on the board of directors for An Achievable Dream’s (AAD) Endowment. My commitment to this program only strengthened when I served as president and CEO of AAD in 2013, just prior to my appointment as secretary of transportation for the commonwealth of Virginia.
While leading AAD, I was fortunate enough to spearhead the expansion of the program to Virginia Beach — in partnership with Virginia Beach City Public Schools. I am so proud of how it has flourished.
Our commitment to and belief in AAD did not stop with the K-12 program, but extends to the program’s alumni. Peggy and I sponsored college scholarships for the Newport News graduating class of 2013.
It is the best investment we have ever made. In addition, Peggy and I advocated for Henrico County officials to open An Achievable Dream Certified Academy at Highland Springs Elementary School in 2017.
By bringing a whole-child focus to education, AAD’s support for students and families goes beyond a traditional school environment. Extracurricular field trips, uniforms, clubs, extended day and social-emotional learning broaden students’ horizons of opportunity, and equip them with the social, academic and character qualities they need to be successful, enterprising citizens.
Community leaders in Henrico value this program because it changes lives. As it expands with the initial cohort of students — first to middle school in the fall, then later to high school — it creates generational and systemic impact.
It fosters academic excellence, and social and emotional growth. It provides young people with the resources they need to go on to college, and build successful and fulfilling lives and careers.
The families of AAD students in Henrico have become outspoken proponents of the program and its expansion. Teachers and staff at the K-5 academy express feelings of support and empowerment as educators.
Dr. Amy Cashwell, Henrico’s school superintendent, has led this strong support as the program has grown to incorporate grades K-5 and soon will expand to middle school and high school. Leaders and innovators in the community wholeheartedly support this partnership.
As state and local leaders have navigated through the pandemic, education remains a chief concern for the commonwealth. COVID-19 has deeply affected education, and socioeconomic and racial inequities; subsequently, some families and communities have been more impacted than others.
I have encountered this unfortunate reality in my current role as Virginia’s secretary of finance. However, AAD and its partners in public education are an important piece of the puzzle to help address these inequities. Repeatedly, I have seen AAD and its partners overcome and grow through challenges together to achieve outstanding results.
Throughout the pandemic, AAD and its partners have provided for the physical needs of students and families as well, delivering food and other supplies for anyone in need.
In addition to all of the wraparound services provided by the program, which focus on bringing equity to education, they also actively work to address issues of racial injustice and inequity in the community. Their regional engagement in support of social justice sets an example for all of us to follow.
A book commemorating the 25th anniversary of the founding of An Achievable Dream was published in 2018. The best voices to impart the value of An Achievable Dream are those of the alumni of the program. In this book, their words demonstrate the importance of continuing this program for “Dreamers” in Henrico County:
“I could have easily fallen victim to the system. An Achievable Dream and others made sure that didn’t happen. All I ever wanted to be was successful, and they told me I could.” — Hyquan, Class of 2012
“An Achievable Dream was the difference between me becoming who I am [an attorney and CPA] versus who society expected me to be.” — Rashida, Class of 2004
For young men and women like Hyquan, Rashida and thousands more who are the future leaders of our communities, providing opportunities through programs like An Achievable Dream not only is important; it is necessary in Henrico County and beyond.
Aubrey L. Layne Jr. is Virginia’s Secretary of Finance. This column, which appeared originally in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, is republished with permission.