Agencies look to Harlem pre-k education model

Agencies look to Harlem pre-k education model

June 4th, 2010 by Yolanda Putman in News

Children living in Chattanooga's poorest neighborhoods will get an education strong enough to get a career and break out of poverty if Hamilton County Schools and the Community Foundation succeed in a plan to make all children academically successful.

"Educational attainment is directly related to income," said David Eichenthal, president and CEO of the Ochs Center.

The Ochs Center, the schools, the Chattanooga Housing Authority and the Community Foundation are joining forces to apply for a Promise Neighborhood program grant.

Hundreds will apply, said Pete Cooper, president of the Community Foundation. President Barack Obama is only awarding 20.

The local groups presented information about the grant at a meeting at Hardy Elementary School on Thursday.

Hardy will be where the Chattanooga Promise Neighborhood starts. If it is successful, the program will encompass all 11,000 children living from the Tennessee River to Missionary Ridge, the area of the city with the highest concentration of poverty.

The grant is based on the Harlem Children's Zone model for getting children out of poverty. The program has been so successful in narrowing the gap between black and white achievement that President Obama has set aside $10 million to fund planning grants to copy it.

For the seventh year in a row, 100 percent of Harlem prekindergartners were assessed to be school-ready when they started kindergarten. And 100 percent of Harlem third-graders attending the program's charter schools were at grade level or above on the statewide math exam, according to the Harlem Children's Zone website.

Chattanooga is seeking a $500,000 planning grant to start the program. The application deadline is June 25. Local officials will know if they got it in September, Mr. Eichenthal said.

Nonprofit leaders and Hamilton County representatives say they will continue working on a plan to improve the quality of education for people living in the area even if the grant is not approved.

The plan probably will differ from Harlem's in that it would have to be more self-sustaining, Mr. Cooper said. Harlem's plan is funded by big contributions from Wall Street brokers, and Mr. Cooper said that amount of money may not be as available in Chattanooga.

The crucial component is parental and community involvement, Mr. Cooper said.

After Mr. Eichenthal asked for a show of hands less than a third of the people attending the meeting said they were parents.

"Some are not off from work. Some just couldn't make it and some are not interested," said Rodney Cameron, parent of a student attending public schools and associate minister at Wesley Chapel.

He said he attended the event because he wanted to know more about how to help people in his congregation.

Most people attending the meeting were people interested in providing programs or those who already provide programs, according to the show of hands.

Carla Sewell, a parent of a child in public schools and a Hamilton County Social Services employee, said the meeting gave parents and community members an opportunity to hear what's going on in their community and to offer input. She said if organizers keep stressing that they want to hear from residents and parents, parents will eventually come.

For more information go to the Harlem Children's Zone website by following this link.

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