Lessons From Harlem Take Root In Tribal Lands The Obama administration is giving out federal grants to "Promise Neighborhoods," in an effort to improve education for poor areas. The model program is the Harlem Children's Zone. To work in areas of grinding rural poverty -- such as Cortez, Colo. -- those techniques must be adapted.
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Lessons From Harlem Take Root In Tribal Lands

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Lessons From Harlem Take Root In Tribal Lands

Lessons From Harlem Take Root In Tribal Lands

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Yesterday, we heard about the Harlem Children's Zone, a widely praised program fighting the effects of poverty in a poor section of New York City.

Well now, the Obama administration wants to spread the program around the country by giving out federal grants to what it's calling Promise Neighborhoods.

NPR's Larry Abramson reports on whether the effort can be truly replicated in other places, or if it will fall apart outside of Harlem.

LARRY ABRAMSON: When community activist Diana Buza read about plans to clone the Harlem Children's Zone with government funding, she said: Count me in.

Ms. DIANA BUZA (Community Activist): When I read the Harlem project's success rate was like, 87 percent of the children involved increased their academic skills, I was like, my goodness, that's a no-brainer.

ABRAMSON: But Diana Buza does not live in a gritty neighborhood in Manhattan. She lives in Cortez, Colorado, one of hundreds of communities applying to be a Promise Neighborhood. With a population of 8,000, Cortez is the center of Montezuma County, a region of high mesas, sandstone canyons, and plenty of low-income families spread out across the Four Corners area.

Ms. BUZA: We have a health advocate who's located over there, and two family advocates who work with families.

ABRAMSON: Diana Buza runs the Pinion Project, a community group that helps low-income residents learn how to be better parents, find health care and day care.

Ms. BUZA: Early childhood center. Yeah, they're all sleeping.

ABRAMSON: In fact, the Pinion Project looks like a small-town version of the Harlem Children's Zone. They have the same suite of wrap-around services, parenting classes, advocates in high school to keep kids from dropping out.

Still, Stacy Houser, the school's superintendent here, says they're not getting the results they want.

Mr. STACY HOUSER (Superintendent, Montezuma County): Graduation rate at the high school was 62.7 percent. For the district, it was 52.7.

ABRAMSON: Not great.

Mr. HOUSER: Well, it's pretty bad.

ABRAMSON: Here, as elsewhere, the effects of even the finest day care and parenting programs often fade away as kids get older. It's hard to knit together a checkerboard of services into a lifetime plan that brings long-term results.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Unidentified Person: Hi, Arnelda.

ABRAMSON: One of the biggest challenges in this area is getting Native-American kids to stay in school - kids like Arnelda Hatale, a Navajo woman who now lives in a small trailer with her boyfriend.

Ms. ARNELDA HATALE: Yeah, I went to MCHS, Montezuma Cortez High School, but I didn't graduate. I stopped about my junior year.

ABRAMSON: But after years of working in entry-level jobs, Arnelda switched gears and ended up getting her GED at age 28. Her path back to school got started when she was confronted by a clerk in the welfare office.

Ms. HATALE: And it just kind of seemed like she was kind of was, you know, kind of like, talking down. And that kind of just made me mad a little bit. And I'm, like, yeah, I'm going to go get my GED. I will get it, just watch.

ABRAMSON: Cortez will have to take that random event and turn it into a regular result. But educators here complain the current focus on pre-K leaves them short on funds. So if Cortez does get Promise Neighborhood's money, they'll have to figure out who gets it.

During my visit, I was often told that small-town relationships are close. But for a small place, there are a lot of constituencies to satisfy: Hispanics; Navajos living off their reservation; and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, with their own reservation down the highway, in nearby Towaoc, Colorado.

The tribe already has its own day cay center, but students must then switch to schools in town, where they struggle. Students can study Navajo in high school, but not their own Ute language. That's led many here to support a school on the reservation, saying it would be easier to school kids in their own Ute culture if they had a school here.

Jaunaree Mills, who helps run the day care center, says that would be a mistake.

Ms. JAUNAREE MILLS: Even if we had a school here, I would still send my kids to Cortez, because they need that integration and that learning to deal with other people.

ABRAMSON: Does your husband feel the same way?

Ms. MILLS: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MILLS: He doesn't. He's a real pushing for a school here on the reservation.

ABRAMSON: Whether or not a Ute school would help, it would cost money everything does. In New York, Harlem Children's Zone CEO Geoffrey Canada has raised millions, thanks to the close proximity of foundations and wealthy donors.

Diana Buza, of the Pinion Project, says raising money in Cortez is a different story.

Ms. BUZA: In small communities, we don't have foundation support. We don't have large corporations. We don't have any corporations, really.

ABRAMSON: Would-be Promise Neighborhoods like Cortez are facing a challenge that has bedeviled many anti-poverty efforts in the past, trying to prove that a successful program can be replicated and isn't just a fluke.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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