I attended my first SAM’S Kids meeting on Sept. 12, and was inspired by the dedication and commitment of Janet D’Spain, executive director, Monty Smith, board president, and a very active and involved board.
As we worked through the evening’s agenda it became evident that this foundation is truly focused on the neediest students and families in Boerne ISD.
The purpose of the SAM’S Kids is “find and provide programs, people and services that narrow the gap between a child’s current academic performance and their full academic potential.”
The program is dedicated to identifying students early in their school experiences who are at risk because of limited academic success especially in math and reading but also because of behavior challenges or anger problems.
In discussions with Janet, I have learned a lot of the history of SAM’S Kids and the many ways they assist our students and staff in BISD. The SAM’S Kids program, an acronym for Students Achieving Maximum Success, was founded in 2002, and has already had a tremendous impact on the lives of numerous disadvantaged or at-risk students in the BISD.
The heart and inspiration for the program was Sam Champion, a former Boerne High School principal, who, after surviving a bout with cancer, created a student services program aimed at helping priority students achieve and graduate.
Sam, as a career educator, was very familiar with the myriad issues that negatively impact a struggling student’s chance for success and graduation. As a school district employee, there was much that Sam could offer these children that is consistent with the constraints within which a public school district must operate.
However, there are always needs that cannot be met by a public school district - which is where SAM’S Kids comes in. SAM’S Kids provides all those other things that a public school district cannot.
One thing all these children need to know is that someone cares about them, and Sam and the dozens of volunteers he inspired always made a special effort to let each child know that someone cares about them.
The entire community suffered a great loss when Sam Champion passed away in January 2007 after a re-occurrence of an inoperable brain tumor. Those of us who work with SAM’S Kids know that the love, compassion and desire of Sam Champion to see all “his kids” succeed will continue through the SAM’S Kids Student Foundation, Inc.
SAM’S Kids desires to level the playing field by helping our priority students overcome the disadvantages that exist. Every child can and should have equal opportunity to succeed in school and school activities.
We know that this can occur if they are provided the tools, support and encouragement to do so. We are extremely flexible in addressing whatever needs the student has and fill the gaps between governmental, charitable and community service agencies to provide students with whatever they need to succeed. That may be eyeglasses, dental and health care, specialized lessons and many other services.
The SAM’S Kids program is not a random “grab ‘em and get ‘em through high school” project. This is a relationship building, mentoring, healing, training, encouraging, disciplining, teaching and coaching program that invests 13 years in a child so that success is not just an option, but a reality.
Children who are not succeeding in public school very often come from environments that are not supportive of educational achievement. The lack of basic necessities, role models and stable family life can have disastrous effects on a child’s ability to learn and achieve.
Self-esteem is often lacking in students that are considered “at-risk and/or economically disadvantaged.” These students are a high priority for the SAM’S Kids program and are the core of our priority students.
Through SAM’S Kids’ programs we offer family outreach to address language issues, family violence, life skills, assistance with food, medical and dental expenses and other such assistance that will help a child succeed.
Because we identify so many students at the elementary level, they develop a tremendous amount of self-esteem and an eagerness to participate in school, extracurricular and community activities, and accept the responsibilities associated with those activities by the time they reach the secondary level.
If a child has a reason to be at school and keep their grades up, their self-esteem is increased proportionally as their academic and social skills increase. Hundreds of our priority students, from kindergarten through 12th grade are active, involved and achieving.
As an all-volunteer charity, virtually all of the funds that are raised go directly to the children’s programs. No salaries and no material fundraising expenses; the money goes to help the children who need it the most.
Expenditures this year included band and orchestra instrument purchase and rentals, art programs to include secondary level art class fees, all-level dance teams, gymnastics, cheerleader and pep squad fees.
Medical expenses such as vision exams and glasses, dental and medical treatment and athletic physicals are a large part of the help offered to at-risk students. Medical expense support is needed to keep our priority students in school and learning.
We also assist with disfiguring conditions such as cleft palates, hemongiomas, overbites and more. Well over 400 priority students (K-12) received school supplies through SAM’S Kids this year because economic difficulties prevented their parents from making those purchases.
Two Priority Students with tremendous potential were allowed to develop their abilities in a summer camp for leadership this past summer. Our sixth grade priority students, with our funding and support, participate with their classmates in the Boerne Outdoor Academy program to experience the camaraderie and wonder of nature found in a four-day camping adventure.
Other students participated in Camp Invention and numerous summer athletic, dance and cheerleading camps. Many priority students routinely miss out on any type of summer camp because they are enrolled in summer school to further build their academic skills or make up for academic difficulties.
In the past, SAM’S Kids worked with the Boerne Champion High School athletic department to sponsor special afternoon summer camps for our summer school students.
SAM’S Kids sponsors an end-of-summer-school swim party in July. Students, parents and teachers enjoy the party and hot dog supper at Boerne City Pool at the conclusion of summer school each year.
One key element to helping our priority students is that we set no arbitrary limits on how we can help or what we can do. We evaluate and determine each child’s needs on an individual basis.
SAM’S Kids fills the voids and satisfies the needs that families, the school district and other agencies cannot or will not provide.
Lastly we offer the encouragement, love and support needed to allow these students to believe in themselves and dream bigger dreams.
SAM’S Kids’ inspired devotion to addressing all the many different issues that affect a child’s educational performance really works, and is what makes this organization so unique. SAM’S Kids does not make excuses when a child is not succeeding, SAM’S Kids looks at the totality of circumstances and customizes its response to each child’s situation and needs.
We desire to change our community, one student at a time, so that these students will one day become builders of our community, and offer a legacy of educational success to their children.
The generosity of the Boerne community cannot be overstated. Without the help SAM’S Kids receives in donated medical and dental services, vision care, community athletic team scholarships, reduced fees for after-school and summer programs, school supplies, and band and orchestra instrument donations, we could not touch such a large number of children yearly.
SAM’S Kids, with the help of the Boerne community, is a tremendous organization that is able to reach out to each at-risk or disadvantaged child and help that child achieve his or her maximum potential!
Janet D’Spain and the board of Sam’s Kids are dedicated to carrying on the long history and commitment to each student who wears the title “Sam’s Kid.”