School bids farewell to first kids in Reach for the Future program

School bids farewell to first kids in Reach for the Future program

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School bids farewell to first kids in Reach for the Future program
Rebecca Nappi The Spokesman-Review

Tags:Lauren Umbdenstock GarskeLidgerwood Elementary School Neice Schafer Patsy Etter Reach for the Future

During after-school tutoring at the Boys & Girls Club, Lidgerwood Elementary School sixth-graders Edward Anos, 11, left, and Blake Dashiell, 12, work together on a spelling assignment. The boys are part of the Reach for the Future program that will provide a group of Lidgerwood students money for college.
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Reach for the Future

• In September 2008, 45 second-grade Lidgerwood Elementary School families signed up for the Reach for the Future program. The families were promised that after their children received a high school diploma or GED, Reach would pay college or vocational tuition that isn’t covered by scholarships – up to the cost of going to Washington State University.

The guarantee was in place even if the families moved away from Lidgerwood, as long as the families stayed in touch with Reach.

• Wednesday, 23 of the original group will graduate from Lidgerwood.

• From the original group, 10 eventually transferred to different schools in Spokane Public Schools; three transferred to the Mead School District and two to the East Valley School District.

• One family moved to Cusick, Wash., and another to Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle.

• Three families moved out of state – to Texas, North Dakota and Mississippi.

• Two families are temporarily out of contact.

• Reach has $650,000 in the students’ college account, enough right now to cover two years of four-year college education for every student and enough for every student to attend two years of community college.

• Reach relies on donations for operating costs and for the Washington State Guaranteed Education Tuition funds established for the children, but its three sponsors have guaranteed that the funding will be in place when the children reach college age. The sponsors are Frank and Patsy Etter, Paul and Neice Schafer, and Irv and Angie Zakheim.

• For more information, go to or call (509) 230-7577.

Lidgerwood Elementary School sixth-graders will graduate Wednesday.

In September 2008, when the children started second grade, their parents received astonishing news. Their children’s college tuition would be paid for through a new program called Reach for the Future.

And in the years leading up to college, the second-graders would receive after-school tutoring and mentoring.

In the Sept. 26, 2008, story announcing the ambitious Reach for the Future effort, Spokesman-Review reporter Dan Hansen wrote: “This is a feel good story that will get better with age.”

It has gotten better. More complicated, too. But the program thrives because the focus remains on the prize: these students’ future.

“Not many kids get this chance,” said Alex Olmos, 12. “It’s going to be a very good change of my life.”
The prime movers

Patsy Etter and Neice Schafer – the women who started Reach for the Future – were tired but exhilarated one recent Friday. The night before, the program held its annual fundraising auction.

Etter, 68, and Schafer, 63, began dreaming of this college plan more than a decade before it happened. Etter had worked with at-risk students as a teacher and counselor. Schafer had worked as a coach.

They enlisted their husbands’ support, raised money in advance from their own savings and from donations, and called upon their friends to act as lunch-buddy mentors and as after-school tutors.

They chose the north Spokane school because 84 percent of its students qualified for subsidized lunches, and most of the parents earned less than $36,000 a year. Only 9 percent of children whose parents earn under $36,000 ever make it to college.

One month after Reach was launched, the U.S. economy collapsed.

“We were doing well with the fundraising, but some of the people who had pledged just couldn’t do it, and it was understandable,” Etter said.

Fortunately, everything was in place: the lunch buddies, the four days a week after-school tutoring in a classroom at the Boys and Girls Club near Lidgerwood.

And they had hired Lauren Umbdenstock Garske as project coordinator, a woman Etter and Schafer call “our rock.”

The women did their homework before launching Reach. They expected to lose many of the second-graders, because turnover is high in low-income schools. They were warned that only about 15 of the original students would likely still be at Lidgerwood by sixth-grade graduation. The program beat those odds; 23 of the original 45 are still there.

They didn’t expect the Washington State Guaranteed Education Tuition funds that they have established for the children to more than double in cost in just four years.