With dreams of becoming a doctor, Dr. Gina Dieudonné would put band aids on her dolls and fix their injuries as a child.
“When you start to think about what you want to do when you grow up, you start to focus on it, you start to imagine yourself being that and you want to be around people who are doing that and learn more about it,” said Dieudonné, now a pediatrician and the owner of Humboldt’s Rainbow Pediatric. “When kids are allowed to dream about their future, they’re good about protecting and pursing those dreams if we’re cheering them on and encouraging them.”
Kids need to grasp the importance of starting to dream, investing in their futures and working hard now, she said. That’s why she purchased bikes as part of a bike reward program through the Bikes for Kids Foundation.
Third-graders at Humboldt’s East Elementary entered their gymnasium in early November and expected three of them to get bikes for essays they’d written.
To their surprise, all 100 would be going home with a bicycle, thanks to Dieudonné whose clinic has been in the Humboldt community since March 2007.
The bikes were rewarded for students’ hard work on an eight-week curriculum challenging them to think and dream big about what they want to do in life, then to work hard for what they want.
From the curriculum, Dieudonné and older students who’d walked the same halls of East Elementary, the third-graders learned they could reach their dreams – even those they have now – by working hard, making good grades and not making excuses.
The bikes: ‘You get a bike. You get a bike. You get a bike.’
Based on the narrative book “Think Big. Work Hard. Be Kind. No Excuses.”, students were tasked with writing essays about how the book applies to their lives or dreams with the expectation that the three best essays would be rewarded.
In the curriculum, students and teachers explored to think big about what they’d like to do when they’re older; to work hard because nothing is given but everything is earned; to be kind so opportunities aren’t limited; not make excuses about what’s expected of them.
With fingers crossed, students listened as three essays were read about a student needing a bigger bike and being deserving because of her love of school, her kindness and her hard work; about a student who worked hard and stayed on task both in class and at home; and another student who hoped to play with his friends again, which is what he did until someone stole the bike he bought with his own money.
“For them to be able to put together, ‘If I work hard, I get rewarded,’ that’s really what school and education is all about,” Bikes for Kids Foundation president Robert Krumroy said.
The Bikes for Kids Foundation has donated bikes and helmets to economically disadvantaged kids since 2002. The organization identifies and serves students in Title I schools that have at least 40% of its students coming from low-income families.
“We’re not looking to give a free bike to a poor child; we’re looking to award a child for hard work,” Krumroy said.
They all worked hard, Dieudonne’ said.
“When people work hard, they are awarded great opportunities,” Krumroy told the students.
That’s why every single East Elementary third-grader got a bike and helmet.
The role models
During the giveaway, high school football players and cheerleaders who are also graduating seniors spoke about how they worked hard, had a good attitude and hadn’t made excuses throughout their school journey, which led to upcoming college and career plans.
They “sat right where you are,” Krumroy told the third-graders.
The three seniors told the students to stay in school and make good grades for a positive outcome and to not let anyone change their dreams or future because only they can do that.
“The biggest things we can do is show them role models, especially kids who came from this school,” Krumroy said. “It matters that they see three kids who graduated from this elementary school and who have been successful. They grabbed their dreams because they thought big, worked hard and made no excuses.”
The third-graders got to see the seniors in their football jerseys and cheer uniforms as well as Dieudonné in her medial scrubs with some students exclaiming, “I know her.”
“I think kids tend to compartmentalize: They’ll go to the doctor and see the doctor in the clinic but they don’t necessarily see that their doctor cares about what’s going on in their homes, their school or their personal lives,” Dieudonné said. “For them to see me in their school community, I think it makes them feel that, ‘This is a person who not only helps me to stay healthy but she actually cares about other aspects of my life.’”
The impact: ‘it matters’
The program has developed into a three-year curriculum. The “Think Big. Work Hard. Be Kind. No Excuses.” book is about a third-grader who realizes that a group of graduating seniors achieved the dreams they first envisioned as third-graders. Whether they were becoming a veterinarian or going to the police academy, they had to have good grades.
The fourth-grade book, “What Should I Eat Today?”, is about nutrition in light of glaring statistics that more than 50% of children will become obese by 35 due to nutrition and health issues, the author Krumroy said.
“Zach & Thad Discover the 4 Money Secrets” is a financial literacy book for kids to understand the importance of saving money and evaluating their own spending. It’s for the fifth-grade curriculum.
To break generational poverty, they must reach children, Krumroy said.
What the foundation does impacts kids’ decision-making and ties what they’re doing now with what they want to do in the future, Dieudonne’ said about partnering with the foundation and being a local sponsor in the community.
Dieudonne’ wants to continue working with the Bikes for Kids Foundation by possibly bringing a culinary program in the schools to show them creative ways to cook and eat healthy for the nutrition-based book and lessons.
She even wants to use the Greenlight app and partner with a local bank to teach students about saving, investing and spending for the fifth grade financial literacy materials.
“We’re trying to teach them life skills that will stay with them the rest of their lives,” she said. “They’ll understand if you work hard, good things happen. If you eat healthy food, you’ll be guaranteed a healthier lifestyle. If you know about money and how to use it, you’ll be able to set short-term and long-term goals.”
Other than teaching kids valuable life skills and lessons, Dieudonne’ is someone who is making an impact on the school community and the students who see her at Rainbow Pediatric.
She always asks her patients about their school work. Through the Bikes for Kids Foundation partnership, they can see that her care and concern is more than just a conversation.
Someone’s role model caring about their mental, physical and overall well being has a huge impact, Dieudonne’ said as she noted how her own pediatrician was her role model and inspiration to become a doctor.
“For me to care not only about an ear infection or making sure they have their shots but I also care about how you’re doing in the classroom and how is that going to connect with your dreams in the future,” she said. “It’s about kids understanding that all of this matters. Their health matters. How they behave in school matters. How they perform in school matters. It ultimately leads to a better future.”
Lasherica Thornton is The Jackson Sun’s education reporter. Reach her at 731-343-9133 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @LashericaT