'Best Day Ever!'
As kids, our dreams for the future are shaped by our experiences. Thanks to philanthropy — and the magic of musical theatre — kids from Title 1 schools throughout our community are dreaming bigger dreams.
Inside Taylor Wiley’s fourth grade classroom at Garfield Elementary in Sioux Falls, her students are absorbing knowledge. From long division, to reading and writing, to the wonders of science and so much more, Wiley is teaching her kids something new every day.
As Wiley teaches, she also learns. She learns about her students. She learns about their strengths and their challenges. She learns about their hopes and dreams. And she learns that for many, life outside of school isn’t always easy.
That’s because Garfield is a Title 1 school, which means it serves a high number of kids from low-income families. It is one of 10 Title 1 elementary schools in Sioux Falls.
So earlier this year, when Wiley learned that her students would have the opportunity to attend the off-Broadway production of “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” at the Washington Pavilion, she felt an overwhelming sense of happiness.
“Going to the Washington Pavilion was a big deal for our kids — it was a huge experience for them,” she said. “These kids don’t have a lot of the opportunities that other kids have. A lot of my class has never been to the Pavilion before. This experience opened their eyes to new possibilities.”
Students in Wiley’s class were among 2,200 kids from Title 1 schools who were able to attend a performance of “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” thanks to a gift from the South Dakota Trust Company to Promising Futures, a fund held at the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.
Led by community advocate Steve Hildebrand, the goal of Promising Futures is to help end the poverty disadvantage in Sioux Falls by providing educational experiences that inspire kids to see themselves in a world outside of poverty.
Gifts to the fund help support efforts that increase both educational experiences and outside-the-classroom experiences like field trips, tours, events, speakers and more.
“It’s so important that we help open their eyes — that we show them what’s possible out there, and that we give them the chance to dream positive dreams,” Hildebrand said.
For students in Wiley’s class, that’s exactly what happened.
Opportunities for Kids to Dream
As the lights dimmed inside the Pavilion’s Mary W. Sommervold Hall just prior to the opening scene of “Schoolhouse Rock Live,” kids began cheering — one student happily proclaiming: “This is the best day ever!”
During the show, Wiley stole glances of her class as they watched the actors on stage perform some of the show’s most iconic songs like “Conjunction Junction,” “I’m Just a Bill,” and “Three is a Magic Number.”
She saw her students’ faces light up.
“Afterwards, I heard girls in my class talking about how they wanted to be in a play some day,” Wiley said. “The experience truly did inspire them.”
Second graders from Hayward Elementary, another Title 1 school, also attended the show. Hayward Principal Derek Maassen called the experience meaningful and memorable.
“For many of our students, it was their first time riding a bus or going into the Washington Pavilion. An experience like this allows a student to build background, make connections and learn new things, which results in a deeper level of understanding. We are so thankful for the opportunity for our students to have this experience,” he said.
Creating opportunities for kids to dream is what inspired the South Dakota Trust Company to make the gift.
“We thought it would be awesome for students to be able to see this performance — and to experience the magic of the performing arts inside the beautiful Washington Pavilion. And we were thrilled to be able to make that happen,” said Matt Tobin, managing director, chief operating officer and legal counsel for the South Dakota Trust Company. “We’ve always been impressed by the work of Promising Futures and we were grateful to be able to partner with them on this.”
Andy Patterson, president of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, said gifts like the one from South Dakota Trust Company have the power to impact a child’s life in countless ways.
“As kids, our imaginations and dreams for the future are shaped by our experiences. The more experiences we have, the bigger our dreams become,” Patterson said. “At the Foundation, we believe every child — no matter what zip code they live in — deserves the chance to dream big. We’re so grateful to supporters of big ideas and great initiatives like the South Dakota Trust Company and to Steve for the transformational work he’s doing to positively impact the lives of kids across our city.”
It was mid-2019 when Hildebrand first announced his plans to rally community support to help eliminate what he calls the “poverty disadvantage” facing thousands of students throughout Sioux Falls.
“I’m trying to raise awareness about the fact that our school district has become an urban district. We are an urban district surrounded by suburban school districts like Harrisburg and Brandon, Tea, Hartford and Dell Rapids,” Hildebrand said.
“There are really two key metrics people need to understand,” he said. “The first one is this: About half of all students in the Sioux Falls School District live in poverty.”
The second metric, he said, illustrates the growing diversity within the district. For Fall 2021, diversity among students in the Sioux Falls School District was at about 40 percent.
“When today’s second graders become seniors, our district will be majority minority,” Hildebrand said.
“So if we do things right, and pay the right amount of attention to these kids, we’re going to be one of the best urban districts in the country. But if we don’t — if we let these kids fall through the cracks, we’re going to experience higher rates of crime, higher rates of poverty and higher rates of homelessness.”
“That’s why we created Promising Futures,” he said. “We have great schools and great teachers and wonderful principals. And the staff at our Title 1 schools are phenomenal. They’re committed to this population of kids. They want to do everything they can. But they also need the support of the community to make it better.”
Promising Futures is working to provide that support, Hildebrand said.
“It helps with things like providing books, which helps to advance reading skills. It helps to give these kids positive experiences outside of school, like field trips. And it helps find ways to give them an additional connection to their schools.”
Patterson said Promising Futures is doing important work — “not only for kids in our community today, but for the strength of our community tomorrow.”
“We’re grateful to Steve for mobilizing this movement and we’re honored to be a collaborator — offering our expertise in philanthropy to help Promising Futures broaden and deepen its efforts to help even more kids across our area.”