Up For Grabs: $10M For Groups Reaching Kids The Obama administration is offering $10 million in grants to 20 organizations to replicate the Harlem Children's Zone program in New York, a center for low-income kids. The response has been tremendous: Nearly 1,000 organizations said they will apply for the Promise Neighborhoods money.
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Up For Grabs: $10M For Groups Reaching Kids

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Up For Grabs: $10M For Groups Reaching Kids

Up For Grabs: $10M For Groups Reaching Kids

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Just before he was elected president, Senator Obama made a speech in which he laid out how he would revive the fight against poverty. If elected, he said he would focus on programs like the renowned�Harlem Children's Zone.

President BARACK OBAMA: An all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort that is literally saving a generation of children in a neighborhood where they were never supposed to have a chance.

NORRIS: Now, President Obama wants to replicate�the Harlem Children's Zone -and he's offering millions of dollars to communities ready to join him. The response has been tremendous: Nearly 1,000 organizations say they will apply for that money. The deadline is Monday.

NPR's Larry Abramson has the first of two reports on the Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

(Soundbite of city streets)

LARRY ABRAMSON: The Harlem Children's Zone is a place - it covers 97 square blocks of Harlem, a neighborhood legendary for great black culture and deep poverty. But it's also a program that wraps kids in a bundle of services to soften the daily blows of this harsh environment.

(Soundbite of day care)

Unidentified Woman: Okay, guys.

ABRAMSON: The Harlem GEMS Head Start center on 117th Street looks like many day care centers. Three and 4-year-olds play in a brightly colored glassed-in room and work on their ABCs with a New York accent.

(Soundbite of day care)

Unidentified Children: A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for cat, D is for dog.

ABRAMSON: Like Head Start centers around the country, this school is open to all low-income families. But Director Deborah Carroll says the resources available here are not typical.

Ms. DEBORAH CARROLL (Director, Head Start, Harlem): A typical Head Start would not have five teachers in the classroom. A typical Head Start might have two. I'd say more than half of the funding comes from Harlem Children's Zone.

ABRAMSON: Deborah Carroll uses those extra resources to get kids ready for kindergarten, to overcome the gap that puts poor kids behind the eight ball. Visitors who doubt this is working are quickly corrected.

(Soundbite of day care)

ABRAMSON: You're trying to erase the achievement gap and get them where other kids would be?

Ms. CARROLL: We are doing that.

ABRAMSON: Yeah, you are doing that.

Ms. CARROLL: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ABRAMSON:�That rock-solid confidence is part of the air these kids breathe from the day they enter the zone to the day they leave.

(Soundbite of school)

ABRAMSON: That same spirit continues at Promise Academy II, a charter school that will be the next step for many of these preschoolers. Principal Kathleen Fernald has been teaching for nearly 40 years all over the country. She says she's never had access to such an array of services.

Ms. KATHLEEN FERNALD (Principal, Promise Academy II): For instance, if a child misses a lot of school and has an attendance issue due to asthma, we connect the family to the Harlem Children's Zone asthma initiative. They then get a case manager at the asthma initiative who goes to the families, they bring a HEPA vacuum cleaner, they help educate the families on keeping a dust-free home.

ABRAMSON: These efforts have achieved some impressive results - higher test scores, more kids getting into college. That's why the Obama administration wants to sow these seeds across the country with the Promise Neighborhoods initiative.

Jim Shelton of the Department of Education says the effort looks beyond the schools for ways to boost achievement.

Mr. JIM SHELTON (Department of Education): Promise Neighborhoods recognizes the importance of a high-quality school at the center, but allows the community-based organizations to actually drive the sets of relationships first that actually can pull it all together.

ABRAMSON: At this moment, community organizers across the country are sweating over their computer terminals, struggling to fill out a complicated grant application that runs 64 pages long. Though the administration only plans to fund 20 Promise Neighborhoods, 943 organizations have said they want to apply, from the Cherokee Nation to Catholic Charities of Middlesex County, New Jersey.

Before they hit the send button, here's a word of caution.

Mr. GEOFFREY CANADA (CEO and Founder, Children's Zone): This is very, very difficult work.

ABRAMSON: Children's Zone CEO and founder Geoffrey Canada has become a media darling with books and documentaries extolling his charismatic leadership and his prodigious fundraising abilities. For those jumping into this game for the first time, Canada says, it's harder than it looks.

Mr. CANADA: We need the first group of these to be successful. We don't think this is really a place for folk who are just really trying to understand or beginning this approach. We think this is an opportunity for really seasoned professionals.

ABRAMSON: The question now is whether Geoffrey Canada's recipe will work in other parts of the country or whether the attempt to duplicate the Zone might just be too much of a stretch for some groups. In the past, organizations have started promising programs, only to find they fell apart when they expanded too fast.

A look at one of the applicants for the Promise Neighborhoods grants in tomorrow's story.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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