A former Palo Alto elementary school teacher and school board member will receive the Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto's Angel Award for her work helping struggling, low-income students with mathematics, Kiwanis has announced.
The Kiwanis Angel Award was started by the Palo Alto chapter in 2012 as a community-service award recognizing an individual in the Palo Alto area who has had a significant, positive impact on youth in the community, according to the organization's website.
Barbara Sih Klausner, 59, who is currently executive director of the nonprofit organization DreamCatchers, will receive the award at a ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 22, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Sheraton Palo Alto, 625 El Camino Real. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian will be the master of ceremonies.
DreamCatchers provides an after-school program to help low-income middle school students by pairing them with student volunteers from Stanford University, local high schools and young professionals for one-on-one tutoring and mentorship. The program was started by board member Sarah Mummah when she was a sophomore at Stanford, Klausner said.
Klausner, who holds a law degree from Yale University and a master's degree in elementary education from New York University, was an educator in the Palo Alto Unified School District's elementary school system and a math teacher on special assignment (TOSA) serving as a curriculum specialist for the district. She was on the school board from 2007-2012. She became acquainted with DreamCatchers while on the school board, she said.
"I was struck by DreamCatchers as the best place for me to leverage my efforts in improving our district beyond its current formidable accomplishments," Klausner wrote in an email. "The achievement gap remained a troubling and significant problem, and yet here were a group of young Stanford undergraduates led by Sarah Mummah who were trying to directly attack the problem."
Although DreamCatchers had forged partnerships with the school district, the Palo Alto YMCA and the City of Palo Alto, Klausner said she could see that "they had not yet fully delved into the many additional potential partnerships in the community."
After joining the DreamCatchers board and becoming its executive director in 2014, Klausner reached out to the greater community to raise funds to help the organization become minimally staffed so that the program would have a solid foundation to support middle school students and volunteers.
"We have tripled our budget in two years so that we have two full-time staff to manage our program, but it is still quite challenging to manage a program with over 200 actively involved students, parents, teachers and volunteers. This year, we are oversubscribed with 65 students and have recruited over 60 volunteers," she said.
Volunteers now include students from Stanford, Gunn, Palo Alto and Castilleja high schools and young professionals.
DreamCatchers now works with more than 24 school district staff, and has added a new program director, Miguel Fittoria, who grew up in East Palo Alto and is a Paly graduate who just earned his master's degree in human development. The program has added coding and robotics with participation from Palantir, Stanford students and the Gunn and Paly robotics teams.
DreamCatchers is partnering with the Paly Social Justice Pathway program, and it will hold parent-engagement events. The homework-support program will focus specifically on mathematics, Klausner said.
The organization also developed an important funding source in 2014 through Simitian, who applied for $30,000 in ongoing funds through Santa Clara County. The funding is a notable portion of DreamCatchers' budget, Klausner said. Palo Alto Unified School District is required to match the county funding each year before the county releases the funds.
"This double bonus provides us with a comfortable cushion upon which to build our fundraising efforts," Klausner said.