In the Loop
Making dreams for San Antonio kids
For many disadvantaged San Antonio elementary students, meeting college athletes up close and taking part in extracurricular activities on a university campus are just a dream. Enter the UTSA Dream Runners.
The UTSA Office of P–20 Initiatives and the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics created Dream Runners in 2005. The program targets students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in grades 5–8 and focuses on improving their academic achievement and attendance.
A recent visit to Villarreal Elementary School for a pep rally is typical of the work done by Dream Runners. UTSA athletes, cheerleaders and Rowdy were on hand to energize the students and share their thoughts on academic preparation for college.
"Growing up in this city, I didn’t get a chance to see the UTSA athletes come out and talk to my school," said track and field athlete Gaston Griffin, a graduate of San Antonio’s Clark High School. "I really enjoy this opportunity to give back to the community I grew up in. Every chance I get, I want to come."
At the pep rally, Manuel Maldonado III, Dream Runners program manager, applauded the students’ hard work.
"As an educator and a coach, there is no greater satisfaction than watching these kids succeed after all of the dedication they have shown all year," Maldonado said. "I am a first-generation college graduate, and a lot of these kids will be the first in their families to go on and get a higher education. For me to be able to give back to these children and stress the importance of getting that degree, well, let’s just say I love my job."
The program also offers "College Student for a Day," where the students are brought to campus to attend mock classes taught by volunteers from several UTSA academic departments. Students also are invited to attend athletic events such as volleyball matches, men’s and women’s basketball games, and baseball and softball games. The goal is to introduce them to the many different aspects of college life, both academic and social.
From two pilot schools in 2005, the Dream Runners program has expanded to nearly 30 schools in six San Antonio school districts. The program has reached more than 5,000 area youth to date.
"It’s important for us to create that vision for the children and show them that it is attainable," Villarreal Elementary School principal Brenda Gallardo said. "A lot of times there are other factors that affect their ability to go to college. We control what they do here at school and this is something that we can offer to our students."
- Greg Ruder