In an unusually blunt answer, the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone recently described how he defines success at the anti-poverty program he started in Harlem in 2004.
“The only benchmark of success is college graduation,” Geoffrey Canada told Helen Zelon of City Limits magazine, where Zelon’s excellent series appears this month. “That’s the only one: How many kids you got in college, how many kids you got out. Everything else is interim.”
Canada’s remarks were particularly instructive because the “cradle to college,” program he began in Harlem in 2004 has been cited as a model for President Barack Obama’s “Promise Neighborhoods.” Obama wants to see 20 poverty reduction campaigns in areas around the country that, like the Harlem Children’s Zone, offer services to new parents even before the child sets foot in a school. The best programs support children all the way to college.
There’s a great deal of interest in how Canada’s program works, and the best source for truly understanding both the ideas behind Harlem Children’s Zone and the difficulty of succeeding are described in “Whatever it Takes,” by Paul Tough, a former New York Times writer.
Journalists throughout the U.S. should be learning more about Canada’s programs as the communities they cover contemplate similar models, and Zelon’s pieces are another great jumping off point. Hope or hype? Zelon asks.
Zelon perfectly captured the lockstep approach to Canada’s pro-college philosophy in an interview with Patrice Ward, who teaches ninth-grade English language arts, African-American film, and college prep.
“Everyone is here for the same greater purpose,” Ward said. “Everyone exudes it and will support you in it. So the students, from every person they encounter, are going to get the same message: That they can succeed, that they can go to college, and here’s what you need to do. No, you’re not going to fall apart—no, we’re not going to let you have a bad day—we want you to succeed, we’re going to push you in that direction.”
One of the more interesting chapters in Paul Tough's “Whatever it Takes,” — a book about the Harlem Children’s Zone — describes how young parents go to school to learn how to be parents. The Harlem Children’s Zone is the brainchild of Geoffrey Canada, whose goal is to “end the cycle of generational poverty.”
The book describes in detail the nine week parenting workshop known as “Baby College,” aimed at expectant parents as well as those with children up to the age of three. One of the major goals of the program is to improve the lives of children born into poverty — all part of the Harlem Children’s Zone attempt to surround children within a 97-block section of the city with social services and educational advantages from birth through college.
Baby College instructors promote everything from teaching early reading skills to lessons on how to turn a trip to the supermarket into a learning experience. Tough’s book on the program weaves in a great deal of research showing that what happens during early childhood is key to building a foundation for a child’s educational future.
All of this is a very long introduction to a piece in the Times-Union of Albany, New York that described how the Harlem Children’s Zone’s efforts in New York City captivated parents and educators in upstate Albany, who are already moving forward with a similar plan and will be launching their own Baby College in the coming months. Already, there are waiting lists.
EarlyStories is trying to keep an eye on any expansion of the Harlem Children’s Zone because President Barack Obama said he’d like to see it expanded to 20 cities nationally — and he set aside $10 million in seed money to develop a national model. Journalists should look out for applications and see if communities are finding ways to address and improve the quality of early childhood education — and what existing models they hope to emulate. Are new programs to be offered? Will they be eagerly embraced? How can the public know if they are of high quality?
(photo from “This American Life”)
While EarlyStories is pleased to see attention focused on the Harlem Children Zone and Geoffrey Canada’s efforts to combat poverty with education, it would be nice to see some other examples of early childhood programs that work. Do they not exist, or are education journalists too caught up with other stories to visit them? What research is available on such programs?
Here’s why it’s important:President Barack Obama has said to be a great admirer of Canada’s model, and he hopes to replicate it in 20 cities, according to a front page article in the Washington Post. A closer look at just about every aspect of Canada’s quest can be found in Paul Tough’s excellent new book, “Whatever it Takes,” which should be required reading for anyone who is covering early childhood issues.
The Post piece laid out Canada’s approach, which starts in the womb and includes programs “that begin before birth, end with college graduation and reach almost every child growing up in 97 blocks carved out of the struggling central Harlem neighborhood,” according the the Post story.
The U.S. Department of Education is poised to offer applications for grants that could expand the program in 20 cities, in so-called Promise Neighborhoods. Some $10 million in the 2010 budget has been set aside for planning.
It will be interesting to see what other kinds of programs emerge from this and whether the Harlem Children’s Zone can be replicated or emulated elsewhere.
Paul Tough and his book called “Whatever it Takes” on the Harlem Children’s Zone is popping up everywhere these days. Who says there’s no market for thoughtful, in depth reporting about education?
Here’s a piece on the HCZ’s “Baby College” that Paul did for Ira Glass’ “This American Life.” It is one of two pieces on a show titled “Going Big.” The title comes from HCZ founder Geoffrey Canada’s idea that he would need to “go big” to give Harlem’s children a chance to have a life better than their parents. In this piece, Canada explains his insight that middle class parents had picked up important lessons about parenting from research on cognition and child development that most poor parents, themselves children of poverty, often have not. The voices of parents in this piece–especially the young couple who are at the center of it–tell the story so well. You can also download the podcast.
Paul also is blogging at Slate.
Last night’s hour-long comparative look at American education on PBS added to the growing renown of Harlem Children’s Zone president and CEO Geoffrey Canada. The documentary had some scenes from the preschools HCZ operates and quotes Canada saying that his goal is to have the children who attend “on grade level” when they enter kindergarten. In his video on YouTube Canada talks about the need to take care of Harlem children from birth on, “at every developmental stage.” Here’s a video of Canada talking about the work of the HCZ.