LEARNING TO TEACH THEIR KIDS After a nine-week program, the first parent-graduates receive their certificates CAROL DEMARE STAFF WRITER/TIMES UNION Section: Capital Region, Page: D1 Date: Sunday, April 25, 2010
ALBANY -- For the past nine weeks, a group of parents spent one day a week learning skills to help them do best by their children, from the day of birth until he or she finishes college. On Saturday, the parents received their certificates as their little ones looked on, munching on snacks.
Taking a page from a successful Harlem program, it was the first graduation for the Albany pilot project known as the Baby Institute, run under the umbrella of the Albany Family Education Alliance. The program, six years in the making, was a collaboration with Trinity Institution and used the expertise of community leaders and volunteers, along with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Program.
The mothers and fathers who received their diplomas at Giffen Elementary School in the city's South End ran the gamut of race, age and education. They were all recruited from agencies that serve the poorest neighborhoods of the city. Some mothers have one or two children, others recently gave birth, and others are pregnant with their first child.
The idea is to provide parents "with the tools and techniques to become the first teachers of their children," said Common Council member Barbara Smith, an alliance member who helped spearhead the baby program. She attended every session at the school, which ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. The participants had to have children no older than 3.
In addressing the graduates, Smith said, "It was really special to share this time with you ... and provide information and opportunities that will help you in the future." She promised the program leaders are "not going to let you go."
Modeled after the successful Harlem Children's Zone, which was founded about 10 years ago by nationally recognized educator Geoffrey Canada, Smith said she and Noelene Smith started putting together various groups in 2004, leading up to the baby program. The goal is to run it for 45 weeks a year; that's five nine-week sessions.
The Harlem program has been embraced by the Obama administration, which will finance similar programs in 20 major cities under the Promise Neighborhoods federal grant. Barbara Smith said the nonprofit alliance will apply.
The staff strives to give "our young parents information and resources so they can help these children have great opportunities, especially in education," Barbara Smith said after the graduation. Behavioral and emotional problems, as well as health and nutrition, "all these issues can prevent kids from the goal of education," she said.
"Unlike other parenting classes that focus on some of the same subject matters, the Albany program has the focus of education and academic success," she said.
Some mothers were emotional as Noelene Smith invited them to speak.
"I'm very blessed to have each of you in my life," 31-year-old Lisa Brooks of Albany said, tears welling in her eyes. The program brought the "gift of wisdom and hope," she said. One of four mothers with perfect attendance, Brooks told how comforting it was to come to a place with "love and warmth and people who understood what we're going through." A single mom, she has a son, Adrien, 3 1/2, and a 4-month-old daughter, Madison.
Jackie St. Andrews, 25, of Schenectady called the classes a real "eye-opener," with instructors who "explained a lot of things." She also had perfect attendance, and along with the others their babies received $50 Savings Bonds and mothers got a $100 gift card.
Instead of money, a 17-year-old with perfect attendance was given a baby stroller that she said she desperately needed and couldn't afford.
Mia Swiencicky of Albany, the mother of 3-year-old Max, said if it weren't for Trinity Institution she wouldn't have known about the project. The nine weeks were "well worth it, and any person out there who is pregnant or going to have a child should go to these classes," she said.
Ellen Cooper of Cornell Cooperative Extension, the only one of a 15-member staff who received a stipend, highlighted what the parents learned -- a child's brain development, baby safety and discipline, how to play with a baby, "play is baby's work," reading to a baby, being loving, gentle and making babies feel safe.
While the parents were in class, students from the Albany High School Key Club volunteered to offer child care, as did volunteer Dr. Bert Malerba, a psychiatrist. Vital was Dahlia Herring, who handled paper work and got businesses to donate.
Tanya Owens of Albany, who has run a day-care center and now works with parents and children at Trinity Institution, said, "It not only takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to help us become good parents."
Carol DeMare can be reached at 454-5431 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
___________________________________________________________________________ A NEW KIND OF SCHOOL ZONE Group hopes new program for inner-city youth will inspire learning from early years through college SCOTT WALDMAN STAFF WRITER Section: Main, Page: A1/TIMES UNION Date: Monday, January 11, 2010
ALBANY -- This isn't just talk.
A year ago, Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith was daydreaming about a whole community working to give some of its poorest children a chance at college and a better life. She was reading about the Harlem Children's Zone, the nationally celebrated initiative to reach every child in a 97-block section of New York City and provide them and their families with social, health and educational services from the early years all the way through college.
Now, Smith and a group of parents, educators and concerned citizens, are quickly moving forward with a similar vision for students in the city of Albany.
The Children's Zone has come to Albany at lightning speed, moving from a concept to classroom-level implementation in less than a year. And interest in its programs has been strong.
For example, openings for the 5th and 6th Grade Scholars Institute Program quickly filled up last week when it was first offered to students at Arbor Hill and Giffen Memorial elementary schools.
Forty students at each school have already signed up for a literacy program that will extend their school day by two hours and give them additional homework. Still, there is a growing waiting list.
Next month, the group will also launch a "Baby University" that will coach teaching skills to expectant mothers, as well as those with a child who is 2-years-old or younger.
All of these efforts are occurring with hardly any outside money.
"None of us is being compensated," Smith said. "We're doing it because it's the right thing to do."
President Barack Obama is so thoroughly convinced of the success of the Harlem Children's Zone that he'd like to see it expanded to 20 cities nationwide, and has set aside $10 million in seed money to develop a national model called the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative.
An application period is expected to open later this year.
Local group members said they would welcome federal aid to support a local initiative, but they won't let the outcome of stiff competition for federal grants determine whether Albany has a Children's Zone program.
An exact dollar amount to fund the programs has not yet been established. But the City School District of Albany, the University at Albany, Trinity Institute and the Cornell Cooperative Extension are among those that have committed staff and money to creating Albany's Zone.
Smith said a lot more corporate and private sponsorship will be necessary to expand programs here.
Two-thirds of the Harlem model -- which has an annual budget of $70 million for more than 8,000 children -- comes from charities and foundations, according to Zone officials.
The Albany group spent Saturday planning the next part of the initiative, which will include a leadership program at Albany High school for frequently truant students. A program for 3-year-olds also is being developed to help ready them for preschool. Work is also underway to provide transportation, often a hindrance for families with little money to spare.
Giffen Principal Maxine Fantroy-Ford said at a recent school board meeting that her students in the program will be taught how to enjoy books through fun activities like acting out characters and will be encouraged to start their own reading libraries at home.
She also said parents will be encouraged to participate and that youngsters, who are excited about learning, often spread their enthusiasm to siblings.
The first children who enroll in the program will be followed throughout their time in middle school with extra support. Fantroy-Ford said students were selected with a variety of abilities so that they can help each other.
"We want to put them all together so they feed off each other's strengths," she said.
Noelene Smith, co-founder of the Family Education Alliance -- a group of Albany parents and citizens helping lead the effort -- said more opportunities are necessary to keep children in impoverished neighborhoods on equal footing with their counterparts in more-affluent areas. She said they will be surrounded by adults, at home, in school and in the neighborhood, all delivering the same positive message.
"They will get a message they're being prepared for college and they'll get this message they're doing this in fifth grade," Smith said.
Scott Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
__________________________________________ GETTING INTO ZONE FOR COLLEGE Ambitious initiative aims to help Albany's poorest children make grade SCOTT WALDMAN STAFF WRITER Section: Main, Page: A1/TIMES UNION Date: Sunday, October 4, 2009
ALBANY -- Albany's poorest children won't have to merely dream about college.
They can plan on holding a diploma in their hands someday if a new initiative succeeds. A group of educators, parents and elected officials has been quietly laboring for a year to establish an anti-poverty corridor in Albany that is based on Harlem Children's Zone, an ambitious initiative to reach every child in a 100-block section of New York City and provide them and their families with social, health and educational services from birth all the way through college graduation.
The nonprofit program created in 1997 by Geoffrey Canada -- whom Michelle Obama recently referred to as one of her "heroes" -- has received significant national attention and is being hailed as a possible cure for the cycle of poverty in America's urban core that eventually leads many poor children to jail.
President Barack Obama's administration has earmarked $10 million in its 2010 budget to plan how it will make Harlem Children's Zone a national model called Promise Neighborhoods Initiative that will expand to 20 cities across the country. Details of the federal plan have not yet been released, but applications are expected to be accepted next year. Councilwoman Barbara Smith wants to ensure that Albany is on that list and she is not willing to wait for Washington before starting such a program here.
"There's so much potential here," Smith said. "The impact it could have on the city as a whole is phenomenal."
Smith said she has enlisted the support of U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko and U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer on the project. Albany schools spokesman Ron Lesko said the district is also collaborating on the effort, which could begin as soon as next fall in district schools. Among the schools being considered to launch the local program are Giffen Memorial and Arbor Hill elementary schools, located in two of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods. Smith said substantial funding from local and national foundations will be required to make the program work, but that pulling together available after-school and health resources is a way to get started. The group seeking to bring the effort here is called Family Education Alliance and it hopes to open a storefront office.
Noelene Smith, a parent and Albany education advocate, said the program is a different approach because it begins early. She said its value is that it encourages families to participate more in the education of their children, especially when students are away from school. "We have to prepare our children," she said. "You can't just feed them, clothe them and let them grow."
Rasuli Lewis, Program Director at Harlem Children's Zone, traveled to Albany recently to present his group's model to the community. He said it serves 8,000 children -- the same number enrolled in the Albany district -- with a $70 million budget, 1,400 employees and at a cost of about $3,500 per child. He said a third of the zone's money comes from public sources, a third from foundations and a third from a 17-member board of benefactors.
The Children's Zone is putting together a conference with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan next month in New York City, which the Albany group plans to attend, for cities looking to copy the initiative. Marty Lipp, a Children's Zone spokesman, said that is a significant step toward expanding the model and that the group sends a representative only to cities that have a workable model in place.
"We only speak to communities that we feel have a chance," Lipp said.
The zone's charter school has boasted impressive state standardized test scores and works with families to ensure that children continue their education at home. That includes a staff that patrols the most dangerous areas outside of school, extensive after-school programs with a fitness component and a "baby college" that educates expectant mothers and parents of young children. The organization's three Promise Academy charter schools provide free medical, dental and mental health services on site.
Lewis said the program is a combined effort between charter and public schools with the same ultimate goal: to nurture children from the moment they are born until they are ready to enter the workforce.
"Every single child at the Harlem Children's Zone is going to college," he said.
Lewis said Harlem in the 1970s and 1980s was a place of such economic devastation, with abandoned buildings and a high murder rate, that it was clear "adults were not in charge." It has a child poverty rate of 40 percent, more than double the national model.
Significant challenges remain to make a collaborative effort work in Albany. There were audible groans from the crowd of educators gathered at Hackett Middle School when Rasuli said the school year in the Harlem Children's Zone ended in August, and that teachers received only a few weeks off. No one from Mayor Jerry Jennings' office attended the event.
Smith acknowledged the challenges, but said the work is almost as important as the end result even if Albany is not selected for the federal program. Despite what will certainly be significant national competition, Smith said it is worth implementing a similar plan here because it is the best national model for closing the achievement gap and ending violence in schools by raising expectations for all students and their parents.
"Its primary goal is academic excellence," she said, "not merely passing and getting by."
Scott Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Statistics demonstrate the success of the Harlem Children's Zone model:
100% Third-graders at HCZ Promise Academy II scored at or above grade level in statewide math tests.
97% Promise Academy I third-graders were at or above grade level in math.
90% High school seniors accepted into college.
96.5% Fourth-graders at PA II at or above grade level in math. Fourth-graders at the same school were 83.3 percent at or above grade level in English language arts.
87.3% Eighth-graders at the PA I middle school were at or above grade level in math.
Baby class really for parents ALBANY - Saturday was graduation day for the people who took part in Albany's first baby institute.
The program helps new parents learn how to care for their children and build strong and successful families.
The goal of the nine-week parenting course is to give parents with young children the tools they need to raise a family and to teach them in a comfortable, group setting.
"I'm a single mother and it's not easy every day getting up and doing the things you do," said Lisa Brooks. "But coming to a place like this where there's love and warmth and people really do understand what you're going through. I'm really very grateful."
"It really is an opportunity for parents to check in with each other, check in with older people with children who might be out of the house, who can give them insight and advice about how to do it in a way that will make everyone feel pleased and successful," said councilwoman Barbara Smith.
Organizers hope to expand the program so that parents can sign up throughout the school year.