DreamCatchers: Where Low-Income, Underrepresented Students Nested in Mainstream Culture Get Academic Support and Personal Affirmation

What if low-income students in a high-performing district could stand shoulder to shoulder with their peers at the start of high school?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As the program director of DreamCatchers, I grew up in low-income East Palo Alto and struggled to succeed in our neighboring affluent Palo Alto school system. In high school, I connected with after-school mentors who inspired me, believed in me and set me on track for college. When the local Kiwanis Club then honored me with an award, I felt truly valued by my community and a sense of belonging. DreamCatchers students are bilingual and bicultural just like me. Struggling just like I did. I know the power of a program like DreamCatchers.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

My mother is Mexican and my father is Nicaraguan.



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Palo Alto

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Palo Alto, East Palo Alto

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Growing income inequality is exacerbating the academic achievement gap. While our students’ classmates routinely rely on extra help from their parents in order to excel academically, including hiring private tutors, Dreamcatchers students are often hard at work helping their parents navigate the day-to-day challenges of English and an unfamiliar school system, putting them at a disadvantage when competing with their peers.

Dreamcatchers seeks to level the playing field for low-income, historically underrepresented by providing extra academic and social support that our students need in order to be successful in school, but are unable to access due to limited financial and educational resources. We pair each of our students with a one-on-one tutor in a year-long, personalized mentorship relationship. We focus on homework, study skills and academic enrichment. We offer individualized support for each student by partnering closely with classroom teachers, guidance counselors and parents.  We are also a place where our students can connect socially with each other and with near-peer tutors who are friends and believers.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Alan, a new middle-school student from a Spanish-only home, didn’t understand the importance of taking responsibility for his work and was performing poorly in school. I quickly built a strong team around this vulnerable student. Having grown up in similar circumstances, I provided a bilingual, bicultural link between school and home for Alan. I paired him with an experienced tutor who mentored him and helped him with his confidence. I engaged Alan’s teachers, counselor and tutor to get him on track. Alan was inspired to take on extra challenges with his tutor and became more focused and successful in his classes. His grades have improved, he exudes a new sense of confidence and purpose and has won a school award for being a model student

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Since its founding, DreamCatchers has served over 300 low-income students, providing 20,000 hours of after-school academic support and enrichment.This year 80 volunteers worked with 60 students, and we piloted an initiative to improve math performance and confidence.To accommodate our growing wait list, we plan to double the size of the program. The student, parent, and teacher response to our program has been very positive. In a recent survey, over 90% of students responded, “DreamCatchers helps me with my homework in ways my parents cannot”, and “My DreamCatchers tutor has inspired me to go to college.” Parents value that “DreamCatchers understands and helps our kids more than we can as their parents”. One grateful teacher explained, “I always breathe a sigh of relief when I know a student is with DreamCatchers. It is a program that gives students a chance to be successful.”

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $100k - $250k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We are primarily funded by local government allocations and community foundation grants. In the last year, we have been transitioning from a very low-budget volunteer organization built around university student support to a more sustainable hybrid model that is both student and community-based. We are increasing community awareness of DreamCatchers and anticipate developing a more robust donor base of individuals and corporate sponsors.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

DreamCatchers students straddle two different worlds. At home, our students support parents who often do not speak English and are unfamiliar with the school system. At school, they sit in class with peers whose affluent, highly-educated families anticipate and address their children’s every academic need. DreamCatchers is unique because it bridges these two worlds, creating what social scientists call a “third space”, where students can feel comfortable, confident and supported. At DreamCatchers, our students find camaraderie with peers and role models who appreciate the challenges they face

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

From our perspective of nurturing the success of underrepresented students within mainstream (often affluent and well-educated) society, an exciting new trend is the recognition that “children” need academic and social-emotional support that is continuous -- through and beyond college. Nonprofits that have traditionally focused on getting under-resourced children into college now realize that an equally important threshold is mentoring these young adults through college and into the first years of their professional careers, and that middle school is a critical transition stage into adulthood.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Changemakers.com

Attachments (1)

DreamCatchers Vision.docx

This document provides an overview of the DreamCatchers after-school program. Included is the DreamCatchers vision and a description of the essential elements of the DreamCatchers model. In addition, this document also provides an abbreviated history of the evolution of DreamCatchers from a small, student-run program serving 1 class of 15 students, to its current state, operating at capacity with 60 students enrolled and a lengthy waiting list.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Becca AbuRakia-Einhorn

I love the idea of a “third space” where students can feel comfortable, confident and supported. Creating spaces where kids feel that they can be vulnerable and open are also spaces where kids can learn a lot more.