One hundred square blocks, 7,400 children in one of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. That’s the target area for the Harlem Children’s Zone, where the charismatic Dr. Geoffrey Canada leads an effort to take children from infancy through college, helping them to succeed against the odds. The Harlem Children’s Zone is not magic, but it has produced remarkable successes, against the odds, with the help of millions of dollars in foundation funding.
Now a coalition of groups in North Minneapolis plans to replicate the Successful Harlem Children’s Zone model in what they are calling the Northside Achievement Zone or NAZ. They will kick off the effort on May 30, as part of the GO! Northside festival.
The Harlem lessons
Dr. Geoffrey Canada spoke to the Minnesota Meeting on May 27, bringing his gospel of success to a crowd of about a thousand people and following up with conversations with legislators.
“This is the deal, folks,” said Canada. “If you care about your children, you’re going to have to save them yourselves. There’s no one coming in to rescue Minnesota’s children. Either you will do it or it will not get done.”
In Minnesota, as in New York and across the country, people who care about children’s education face two challenges: dealing with today’s emergency in classrooms and fixing the broken system.
Canada laid out six basic principles:
1) You have to begin early. He described a Harvard study of language acquisition that found poor children’s vocabulary lagging by 1,000 words at age three, and a Harlem Children’s Zone response that has four-year-olds in preschool from 8-5:45 for eleven months. “Every single one of my kids has entered kindergarten on grade level,” Canada said. “At 4, we can catch that up. In our communities, we have waited so long that our kids never reach their full potential. You can’t let someone get an eight-year head start on you and then try to catch up.”
2) Continuity of best practice programs that continue and stay with kids through college. Said Canada: “A two-year program will make a difference – until you stop. And then the difference goes away. You give a kid a great program for 3 years and then give him a lousy program for 8 years and what do you think is going to happen? Our theory is you give a child a great program and then you protect your investment with another great program and another.”
3) Parents have to be part of this. How? “We bribe them. It works. If you’ve got a better idea, let me know.” The program gives parents gift certificates and other rewards for participation.
4) Schools have to be redesigned for success. Canada described what he calls the physics of education, illustrating with one of those infamous word problems: If a train leaves Minneapolis at 9 a.m and it’s going west at 30 mph and another train leaves Minneapolis at 11 a.m. and its going west at 30 mph, when will train B catch train A?
Here’s how the problem plays out in the educational system: “Our schools are designed so that in the average school year, middle class students who come from decent schools with decent teachers and decent administrators with communities that care are expected to make one year’s progress in one school year.
“So let’s say that I have a school where my kids are two years behind and I can change everything. The physics say those kids will still be two years behind, because you’re trying to catch a moving target.”
If we are going to fix this problem, Canada insisted, we need to invest in a longer school day and a longer school year. And right now, nowhere in America does this.
5) Communities need to be positive support environments. The Harlem Children’s Zone has focused on cleaning up the community, creating parks, making communities better. “You can’t have young people growing up and getting educated in communities you wouldn’t be caught dead in.”
6) Evaluation must happen on time, and must be clear and outcome-based. Don’t wait until the end of the year for test results, Canada said. Get data immediately and do something about it.
The Minneapolis response: Northside Achievement Zone
A group of community organizations and individuals has launched what they call the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), “inspired by the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone.” In attendance at the Minnesota Meeting event, they announced a launch event for Saturday, May 30, from 11 am. to 1 p.m., as part of the GO! Northside festival at the YMCA (1711 Broadway, Minneapolis). The NAZ mission statement says:
The Northside Achievement Zone will align resources and opportunities in a targeted geographic area of North Minneapolis to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all children (birth to 18 years) with the aim of promoting educational achievement and life success.
Members of the steering committee include co-chairs Wesley Walker from NorthWay Community Trust and Michelle Martin from the PEACE Foundation, as well as Lauren Martin from 500 Under 5 (U of M), Chad Schwitters from Urban Homeworks, Andre Dukes from Shiloh Temple, Anne Long from PYC, Stu Ackerberg from Catalyst Community Partners, Ron Price from LISC, Sondra Samuels from PEACE Foundation, Jeff Lundberg from Sanctuary CDC, Brian Dejewski from TC Christian Foundations, Melanie Sanco from Mineapolis Public Schools, Dennis McLaughlin from Minneapolis Library, Makeda Zulu Gillespie from U-ROC, Bass Zanjani from the City of Minneapolis, Diane Hauley from Rueben Lindh, and Repa Mekha from Payne Lake Community Partners.
A planning group for NAZ began meeting in 2007, according to the group’s website. with facilitation by the Northway Community Trust and PEACE Foundation. They decided to target an area bounded by Broadway/Golden Valley Road on the south, Penn Avenue on the west, 35th Avenue on the north and the I-94 on the east. (See map.) According to NAZ, this area includes an estimated 5,464 households with approximately 7,725 children.
Some differences between NAZ and the Harlem Children’s Zone are shown in a table prepared by NAZ:
Other differences may be even larger. The Harlem Children’s Zone built new programs, beginning with its Baby College™ for parents, all-day intensive preschool, charter schools, and much more. The Harlem Children’s Zone also spent nearly $40 million on its programs in 2006, according to its federal Form 990 return. So far, NAZ’s plans are more directed toward coordinating and communicating about already-existing programs offered by organizations already in the area, rather than on new resources or programs.
We plan to report more on the Northside Achievement Zone in the near future. If you’d like to help cover this story, go to the Reporter’s Notebook | Northside Achievement Zone.