High-Powered Cast Gets Behind “Dream City”

Every city high school will have a full-time “dream director,” according to the goal of a $500K campaign Mayor John DeStefano and business leaders launched Monday to expand an experiment hatched by recent Yale grads.

The experiment, called the “Future Project,” connects high school kids to adult mentors who help them draw from their passions to launch community projects, such as an anti-bullying campaign or a hip-hop recording studio.

Yale grads Andrew Mangino and Kanya Balakrishna launched the program in 2011 in New Haven and two other cities. Three city high schools—Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, High School in the Community, and New Haven Academy—each have a full-time “dream director,” each working with a core group of 30 to 50 kids. (Click here and here to read more about the program.)

Some of those kids headed to Long Wharf Monday evening to join adults announcing the program’s next step. Lynne Fusco, president and CEO of Fusco Corporation and chair of the Future Project’s organizational board, invited top movers and shakers into the Water Club at the Long Wharf Maritime Center, aka the “Fusco building,” to hear about the project over prosciutto-wrapped melon slices, pigs-in-a-blanket, wine and bottled beer.

Mayor John DeStefano (pictured with Future “fellow” Kevin Rivas, a student at Wilbur Cross) reflected on the city’s school reform effort, which he launched in 2009 to address years of educational failure under his tenure. He recounted how the teachers union stepped to the plate with a landmark teachers contract that paved the way for reform, and how Yale and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven followed through with a college scholarship program. Then he announced the next phase: becoming the first “dream city,” where all high schools have an official, full-time “dream director.”

New Haven’s public school district plans to expand the Future Project to all nine high schools next year, DeStefano announced. That will happen not with city taxpayer money, but through private fundraising. He announced a goal of raising a half-million dollars to support the expansion. And he pledged to use his political capital to help make that happen.

“I and the Future Project will be following up with some of you,” DeStefano said.

The room included business executive Carter Winstanley, Yale’s Bruce Alexander, Gateway Community College President Dorsey Kendrick, state education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, and leaders from New Haven’s nonprofit world.

Tim Shriver (pictured), president and CEO of the Special Olympics and a member of the Future Project board, added a celebrity pitch. A product of the Kennedy and Shriver families, Shriver graduated from Yale University in 1981 and taught for a while at Hillhouse High School. (He noted that he once considered running for mayor against DeStefano, but thought better of it.) He called the Future Project a great example of grassroots school reform, where change comes from the bottom up, based on what kids want, not what adults deem best for them. He said the program embodies the old adage that good educators must “light a fire,” instead of “fill a pail.” 

Future Project co-founder Mangino (a former Independent journalism intern), said the fundraising campaign has already gotten off to a start with support from Fusco and Yale. Yale President-Elect Peter Salovey just joined the Future Project’s organizational board, Mangino said. Yale has pledged $25,000 towards the effort, and a Yale undergraduate philanthropy class is contributing $15,000.

DeStefano Monday pledged to continue to find more donors. “We’ll make a list,” he told Mangino.

“These kids will pay it back over and over and over,” DeStefano told the crowd.

Students showed some of their talent in presentations before the potential funders and supporters Monday night. Yulonda Zanders sang a Futuristic version of Katy Perry’s “California Girls.” Gerald Conyers (aka Gmoney Da Truth) and Michael Rivera (aka AR Mike) rapped a few lines.

Gerald and Michael (pictured), both students at Wilbur Cross High, said they are working on launching a hip-hop studio at their school to serve as a motivator for kids keeping their grades up. Just as kids have to keep up their GPAs to stay on the football team, they said, students will have to do so to earn the right to record songs in their studio.

Click on the video at the top of the story to watch the students’ performance.

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posted by: robn on March 5, 2013  1:06pm

Besides the catchy title, what does a “Dream Director” do that a guidance counselor shouldn’t be doing already?

posted by: Brutus2011 on March 5, 2013  1:26pm

Look, all this is nice and positive so what is not to like.

Here is what Mayor DeStefano needs to do as the leader of NHPS now that he is a lame duck mayor.

1) Cut 90% of the central administration jobs. A huge side benefit will much less group-think and attendant shenanigans.
2) Move out of Gateway Center and have the remaining newer leaner district admins take up offices in the various schools.
3)Go mobile via computers, smartphones, and tablets—it is easy today to utilize programs such as Skype to have virtual meetings.
4) Reduce the principal and ass’t principal force by at least one-half to start with the goal to eliminate all such positions to be replaced with volunteer teacher boards—this will eliminate having so-called “leaders” making 3x the average teacher salary and would go a long way to eliminating the disparity in salary problem (and there is a huge problem with incentives in this management structure)
5) Hire cost effective business managers to run the non-professional staff functions.

4) Design fund allocation around the classroom. This is huge and will be seismic shift for the good of our kids.

5) This last one is pure fantasy but here goes—go on Channel 8 and tell Malloy and Obama to take their $$$ and let us folks here take care of our own.  (and I do like Obama so don’t get mad)
Oh, one last thing—I am available for Reggie Mayo’s job although I don’t dress nearly as well.

posted by: AndrewMangino on March 5, 2013  1:55pm


Great question! We see the Dream Director and Guidance Counselor as very distinct. The Dream Director is focused on three things, above all:

* First, the Dream Director builds a coalition of students (the Future Fellows) to launch a school-wide campaign that leverages the passions of the students, and one singular dream for the school, to transform it in one way powerful, measurable over the year. For example, the Dream Director at New Haven Academy, Laura, has sparked a student-led campaign to turnaround the conversation in the school (AirTime) by featuring positive conversation (so many studies show the connection between conversation and performance); at HSC, Christian is working to turn the school into a High School FOR the Community by sparking the students to turn the building into a living student-created art gallery; and at Wilbur Cross, Frank Brady is launching a school-wide M.A.C. (Make a Change) campaign, created by the students for the students—to enable each to become a changemaker. Each campaign involves teachers, the principal, and community partners as they begin to take off.

* Second, the Dream Director goes out into the community and recruits volunteer coaches to partner with students based on their passions and challenge them to build entrepreneurial projects — from starting non-profits to putting on plays to launching an student-suicide prevention initiative; there are hundreds of examples — that lights their fire; makes a difference for New Haven and the school; brings together a team of fellow students; and leaves them with leaps in self-efficacy, mastery and grit. We focus on a core group of Future Fellows, and our model is evolving so that next year, we will be able to directly touch most students at the school.

* Third, the Dream Director will be increasingly partnering with teachers and students to reinvent the way school occurs to students by everything from electrifying lunch and creating after-school opportunities to connect with the talented and passionate people in the community, and, overall, working to make the culture of the school one that nourishes the whole child. We want to see students and teachers to absolutely love to come to school — every single day.

Dream Directors are also increasingly working to be alliance builders and community organizers, convening the many amazing organizations in the city to help enable the individual dreams of students and the collective dreams of a school and city.


posted by: MamaBear on March 5, 2013  1:59pm

I would rather my high school child has a full time guidance counselor, full time school nurse, full time security guard, enough books for each child to take home and teachers with some classroom management skills so the kids who want to learn can.

posted by: robn on March 5, 2013  2:47pm


Guidance counselors are more often than not, formulaic and unworldly. If the DD’s are intended to shake up the hierarchy with a little bit of Merlin-esque invasiveness and cheerleader positivity then I’m all for it.

posted by: Tessa Marquis on March 5, 2013  9:12pm

Melissa Bailey is cool. She always posts a picture of the food.

posted by: NHPLEB on March 6, 2013  7:02am

And student dreamers—- don’t be co-opted by the establishment coming to you with trays of food and promises.  We have to MAKE the POWER for ourselves .  Then, we can effect the changes we want to make the kind of New Haven and the kind of world we want.  Hold on to your ideals and to your knowledge of right and wrong!

posted by: EmCeeJay on March 6, 2013  6:19pm

Brutus2011 speaks truth.

Based on my limited interactions with The Future Project, it’s a noble goal.  It’s about motivating and helping students make a positive impact in their community RIGHT NOW.  It’s true community involvement and extra curricular.  That’s what makes it different from guidance counselors

posted by: Tom Burns on March 6, 2013  10:43pm

Mr. Mangino—
Thanks for the post—and thanks for a great idea—looking forward to working with these dreamers—Tom

posted by: JohnTulin on March 7, 2013  3:03pm

This is all fine and dandy….another ‘great idea’ full of ‘what the kids want and not what adults deem best”(?)....kids singing and rapping, lots of food and politicians and non-profit saints (striking the same inspirational and sincere pose no less)........but can the kids read, write, think?  Can they function and persevere when they get to college?  Smells like another canned fad, forgotten once the next one comes along.

posted by: AndrewMangino on March 8, 2013  12:43pm


Really excited by your question—definitely a big, important one to be asking, and exactly what inspired The Future Project in the first place, actually!

We worked backwards in designing The Future Project to ask how the students who attend schools with Dream Directors would learn not only how to get into college—but how to persevere, function, and flourish in college and way beyond. We use the “25-year rule” to see what we can do in high school that will make an impact a 1/4 century later.

To help figure that out, we’ve been consulting over the past two years the world’s top experts and gathering the most empirically tested materials in enabling grit, resilience, perseverance, willpower, and intrinsicdemystifyn, as well as “growth mindset,” the mindset that says every failure is a victory because you’re learning something that can point the way to your future, a mindset that more and more long-term studies show the most successful people learned at an early age—and use always. A mindset without which even well-educated people will achieve little compared to their potential.

Also, on your point about reading/writing/thinking, that is why we focus on motivation—the elephant in the room. Where there is desire, there is learning—but ONLY where there is desire. We aim to connect school for students to their passions, so that they see the reason to read and write, and can apply their learning now—and thus learn not only how to think, but also how to create. We see these as key 21st Century skills.

As Melissa points out, it’s an experiment—we don’t know the answer but are out to find it. And I think you’re asking exactly the right questions; we are working to do everything we can to find the answers that de-mystify motivation and true drive—and give students the skills and mindset to be resilient against all odds. We see this as central to the future of education—and it sounds as if you do too!