ADAR SCHNEIDER, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
DC’s 7th Ward is one of the worst pockets of poverty in the city. According to a report by the Urban Institute, half of the Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood inhabitants are under the federal poverty line. 90% of households are headed by a single mother. About one third are under the age of 18 (compared to a city-wide rate of about 17%), and every primary school in the area sees rates of nearly 100% of the students qualifying for reduced or free lunches.
Intergenerational poverty is one of the most pervasive problems in inner-city neighborhoods like Parkside-Kenilworth. But the Department of Education is partnering with cities to try to solve this problem through an initiative called the Promise Neighborhood. These areas are funded through a DoE grant that aims to integrate community services, especially those targeted at childhood development. Promise Neighborhoods use data-driven goals to build up community resources and infrastructure that serves entire neighborhoods. This type of initiative is now operating in 18 states and DC.
The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI), beginning in 2010, is a long-term community development plan aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty that pervades residents of Ward 7. The initiative takes a Cradle-to-College-to-Career Pipeline approach that focuses on improving public schools within the community while building complementary services.This means that while a focus is put on improving the effectiveness of neighborhood schools, the community aims to build integrated services for all residents that support the overall goal of graduating from college and prepared for a career.The Promise Neighborhood Initiative actively utilizes 40 community and government partners that deal with every aspect of child and adolescent growth and development, including physical and mental health services, arts and cultural engagement, mentorship programs, and academic support.
The initiative also puts a focus on parents by providing parenting classes, technical training, and workforce development. It specifically aims at breaking down cyclical poverty by supporting two generations.
How well has the initiative been doing? It is perhaps too early to tell. Since the beginning of the program, one of the focus schools has shut down. The DC Housing Authority’s application for a $30 million supplemental grant for the area has been denied. Impact data has not been updated recently, but immediate success is not exactly easy to find.
But the potential is still there, with case workers being assigned to children in the coming months and an effort put into increasing parent access to GEDs and job training programs. One mark of success is Caesar Chavaz Public Charter school in Parkside, which has recently been promoted to a Tier 1 School -- a mark of academic achievement among public schools in DC.
DC should support the success of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, following the model of the Harlem Children’s Zone. It may take time, and it will certainly see stumbles, but breaking the pervasive cycles of poverty in DC’s pockets of poverty is not only important for the immediate neighborhoods, but essential to the success of the city as a whole. By improving the long-term success and opportunities of those in Ward 7, we can boost jobs and wages, reduce crime, and make progress toward transforming the school to prison pipeline into a cradle-to-college pipeline.
When schools are funded primarily through property taxes while situated in an area dominated by public housing and low property values, neighborhood schools end up underfunded and racially segregated. Students who lack strong support systems and early education do poorly and have high dropout rates. More than half of fifth graders in Ward 7 fail reading and math proficiency tests. It is no coincidence that most schools in Ward 7 lack supplemental programs, including physical education, and rates of childhood obesity are extremely high.
This intergenerational “Promise Neighborhood” model is still relatively uncommon and considered experimental, but it has seen success in the past. It is based on the Harlem Children Zone, a neighborhood initiative beginning as a one-block pilot in the 1990s, that has seen incredible success. It combines a holistic approach to community success by integrating health care, early education, college readiness, free financial services, and parent education. The model has been praised across the country as an innovative approach to tackling intergenerational poverty.
Harlem Children’s Zone has expanded to include a 97 block radius, with nearly 70% of youth inside the “footprint” utilizing HCZ pipeline programs. They currently serve 10,700 youth and 8,000 adults each year. By creating seamless support for participants from prenatal to post-college, they have seen 92% of program participants accepted into college. One hundred percent of their pre-K students were tested “school ready,” and, in 2012, the Harlem Children’s Zone actually built their own $100 million state-of-the-art elementary school inside a low-income housing development complex, complete with healthy meals, new technology, after school family support groups, and on-site mental health and medical clinics. Programming includes mentorship, active lifestyle, team-building, and character development, with the overall goal of revitalizing the culture and economic power of Harlem from the inside-out.
One of the toughest parts of successful programming is, of course, funding. The city is spending millions of dollars on a project they are unsure will be successful. Is this sustainable? Can DC afford it, and how will funding change over time? Eighty-three percent of funding for HCZ now comes from corporate, foundation, and individual donations, compared to 6% from public funding.
JACK NOLAND, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
This is, admittedly, way out of left field. I am about as green as they come in policy work, and even more so in television critique, but their intersection provides a rare opportunity for commentary. I suppose this could be considered a “meta” moment. As an organization, GW Roosevelt has had a number of campaigns, events, and discussions over the last semester and year, and as we sit at the crossroads and look toward the future, some self-reflection is always appropriate. If you’ll indulge the levity, there may be something worthwhile to come.
When we emerge from the crypts of policy analysis and plop down in front of the tube, few shows seem to tie intimately to the rewarding, if less-marketable, world of public policy. There aren’t many chase scenes here. The two do meet, on occasion, and in doing so offer a useful representation of reality to hold up to our own. It’s a new year, and in the spirit of setting a moral course for the semester, I think there are two television shows worth examining – The Wire, for depicting a world where plucky, bright-eyed idealists can (and often do) fail, and The West Wing, for showing that they can succeed.
The Wire is a show that deals intimately, intensively, and sometimes uncomfortably with institutional failure and the corruptive effect this process can have on well-intentioned people working within these systems. David Simon’s cross-section of mid-2000s Baltimore artfully and masterfully showcases the parallels between institutions formal and informal on both sides of the law, and offers ambiguity and even bold-faced cynicism where other programs generally adhere to a good-bad dichotomy. It is a show praised for its realism, and is darker and gloomier than case-a-week police procedurals for this reason. Successes are often piecemeal or delayed, and failure is rampant.
There are people motivated by greed and altruism, anger and kindness, within every institution the show deals with, be it the drug trade, schools, or the police force. The characters with good intentions do not always win, and they often get trapped or marginalized for not playing the game the way it is designed to be played. Politics--racial and personal --work desperately to keep the system intact. It is unbelievably hard to create change that sticks in The Wire’s Baltimore, and the archetypal roles remain in place as their inhabitants shift. This is not meant to be dissuasive; in fact, the intractability of the status quo itself makes good policy paramount. However, in not drinking the Kool-Aid of believing in some sort of karmic balance propping up the forces of justice, the show offers a realistic, if cynical, guidebook to municipal malfeasance.
On the other hand, The West Wing covers the ups and downs of the administration of fictional Democratic President Jed Bartlet, and his core group of advisors. The West Wing is one of the best shows about American politics ever made because it recognizes and draws the realistic distinction between politics and policy that other acclaimed programs, like Scandal and House of Cards, smooth over. That it deals intimately with the plodding, often mundane process of writing and implementing policy makes the show fun to watch for people like ourselves, but also useful in considering how to move forward.
As Bartlet declares, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” for, as Will Bailey responds, “It’s the only thing that ever has.” This is fundamentally true, and it is the spiritual cornerstone for ours and other student groups seeking systemic change. This is where watching The West Wing can be an inspirational experience, as, even through the successes and failures of the administration, progress is made incrementally. The good guys win more often than they lose. In our world of legislative intransigence, bureaucratic quagmire, and sometimes unbelievably archaic institutional proceedings, this measured hope is necessary.
Critically, both shows deal with idealists who really are trying to make change. The Wire’s McNulty, Bunk and the detectives trying to focus on high-level crime, Colvin and his attempts at drug decriminalization, and Pryzbylewski and his curricular priorities exemplify people fighting back against a system that is crushingly corruptive and misaligned. The West Wing follows Josh, CJ, Toby, and the rest of the senior staff as they attempt to find progress amid compromise, setbacks, and even failure. There are key lessons to be learned here. While the outcome for these sets of characters is largely different, the methodical process that they go through is surely valuable.
The point, I suppose, of all this TV talk is this: neither show is completely right, but both are useful. In truth, our sphere is probably somewhere in between gritty Baltimore and dignified Washington, and neither failure nor success is guaranteed. Institutional forces can be, and often are, incredibly hard-headed and unjust. Policy – especially progressive policy – demands both pragmatic concerns and an overpowering desire to see things get better, to see the immutable status quo made fluid, and molded for the better. We must waterproof our hope with awareness and realism if we want to make policy that lasts, and works. These are two of the best shows ever made, for my money, for artistic and dramatic value. For policy wonks seeking to change the way the world works, however, I think they are absolutely essential.
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