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.
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