Yesterday, I heard a fantastic report on NPR's "This American Life" about a truly innovative organization called the Harlem Children's Zone. The report was specifically about a program they offer, aptly named "Baby College."
Frustrated by the lack of results from the more conventional methods of trying to lift the impoverished out of their plight, Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone's director, introduced a revolutionary idea: educating parents on how to raise children who will succeed. The idea was revolutionary because it wasn't parent-focused. It doesn't promise to move parents out of poverty, what it promises is to educate parents on how to raise children to succeed and lift up themselves.
Baby College offers expecting parents and parents of small children an alternative view on how to raise children. Emphasizing the importance of reading to children and peaceful parenting, this program provides real, learnable skills for parents who find themselves locked in a cycle they'd like not to perpetuate.
Their website states: "The goal is to create a "tipping point" in the neighborhood so that children are surrounded by an enriching environment of college-oriented peers and supportive adults, a counterweight to "the street" and a toxic popular culture that glorifies misogyny and anti-social behavior. "
And the statistics are horrifying:
33%--The chance that a black boy born in 2001 will go to prison.
60% of black men in their mid-thirties who dropped out of school have spent time in prison.
7% of black eighth-graders perform at grade level in math.
The work that the Harlem Children's Zone is doing isn't just ground-breaking, it's also successful. The vast majority of kids in the program perform at or above grade-level. And the parents who graduate from Baby College acquire a whole new set of parenting skills they wouldn't have elsewhere.