An overview of Harlem Children’s Zone

In the last blog I introduced HCZ and talked about why I believe their model is important to understand and interact with.  Here is how they describe their organizational philosophy in a nutshell.  I am particularly fascinated by their “two fundamental principles” at the end.  I think those should be seriously weighed by anyone involved in the cause of addressing poverty.

Called “one of the most ambitious social-service experiments of our time,” by The New York Times, the Harlem Children’s Zone Project is a unique, holistic approach to rebuilding a community so that its children can stay on track through college and go on to the job market.

The goal is to create a “tipping point” in the neighborhood so that children are surrounded by an enriching environment of college-oriented peers and supportive adults, a counterweight to “the street” and a toxic popular culture that glorifies misogyny and anti-social behavior.

In January 2007, the HCZ Project launched its Phase 3, expanding its comprehensive system of programs to nearly 100 blocks of Central Harlem. President Barack Obama has called for the creation of “Promise Neighborhoods” across the country based on the comprehensive, data-driven approach of the HCZ Project.

The HCZ pipeline begins with The Baby College, a series of workshops for parents of children ages 0-3. The pipeline goes on to include best-practice programs for children of every age through college. The network includes in-school, after-school, social-service, health and community-building programs. The pipeline has, in fact, dual pathways: on one track, the children go through our Promise Academy charter schools; while on the other track, we work to support the public schools in the Zone, both during the school day with in-class assistants and with afterschool programs.

For children to do well, their families have to do well. And for families to do well, their community must do well. That is why HCZ works to strengthen families as well as empowering them to have a positive impact on their children’s development.  HCZ also works to reweave the social fabric of Harlem, which has been torn apart by crime, drugs and decades of poverty.

The two fundamental principles of The Zone Project are to help kids in a sustained way, starting as early in their lives as possible, and to create a critical mass of adults around them who understand what it takes to help children succeed.

The HCZ Project began as a one-block pilot in the 1990s, then following a 10-year business plan, it expanded to 24 blocks, then 60 blocks, then ultimately 97 blocks. The goal is to serve 15,000 children and 7,000 adults.

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