Harlem, N.Y., and Chattanooga are very different cities thousands of miles apart, but community members learned on Saturday there are striking similarities.
The Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's University Center held a public policy forum regarding children's education in Hamilton County. The event's featured guest speaker was journalist Paul Tough, author of "Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America."
The forum focused on what government, nonprofits, parents and county leaders can do to ensure success for Hamilton County schoolchildren.
About six years ago, Mr. Tough learned about the success of the Harlem Children's Zone, a 97-block laboratory in central New York City where poor kids were being prepared to compete with their middle-class peers.
Intrigued by this pioneering social experiment, Mr. Tough decided to meet with Geoffrey Canada, a passionate advocate for education reform and the President and Chief Executive Officer for the Harlem Children's Zone.
"The reason that I felt like it was an important program to study was that it felt like a laboratory for a lot of the research that's going on and the debates that going on around poverty and education," Mr. Tough said.
Last year, an Ochs Center study found that one in four children born in Hamilton County were at risk of not being ready when they enter kindergarten.
"It feels like the research that the Ochs Center has done in the report that they put out last year is really pointing toward a situation that's very much like what exists in lots of cities -- but definitely in Harlem -- where there are a few certain geographical neighborhoods in the city where poverty tends to concentrate, social problems tend to concentrate, and poor school performance concentrates there as well," Mr. Tough said.
While at the UTC, Mr. Tough talked about what he learned and signed copies of his book.
He said the biggest misconception people can have about education in troubled communities is that nothing can be done to improve the situation.
"I understand why that misconception is there because in lots of these communities there have been plenty of attempts to change things, to improve education and to improve schools," he said. "I think they often don't work because there are so many problems, that simply trying to tackle one part of the problem isn't enough."
Monique Berke, vice president for external affairs for the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, said she has been amazed at the interest in the topic.
"We had a goal of getting 200 people registered, and we have registered officially, I think, 252 individuals," she said about Saturday's session. "The best part is there are lots of different groups interested, from parents to principals to teachers to elected officials and school board members."
BY THE NUMBERS
THE STATUS OF HAMILTON COUNTY KIDS
* On average, about 4,000 children are born in Hamilton County every year.
* 30 percent of children born between 2004 and 2006 had mothers with household incomes below $10,000.
* 25 percent of children born between 2001 and 2006 had mothers who lacked a high school diploma.
* 14 percent of all children born between 2001 and 2006 had mothers who were still teenagers.
* 10 percent of children born between 2001 and 2006 had low birth weight and were at risk for developmental delays.