It’s my firm belief that all children — no matter their zip code — deserve a chance at success and the opportunity to reach their full potential. Too often, kids in distressed communities face serious challenges even as they lack access to critical resources, like a quality education, early learning screenings, wrap-around services, and strong support networks. Providing these children with the support they need to be able to take on the challenge of college and career requires smarter and better-targeted federal policies.
One program that has had incredible success and is charting the path for many low-income communities is the Harlem Children’s Zone. In New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, kids were vulnerable to the effects of failing schools, deteriorating apartments, high crime rates, and drug use. Through innovative, multifaceted programming and strong leadership, the Children’s Zone put a dent in Harlem’s detrimental cycle of generational poverty and produced real, measurable returns for more than 26,000 Harlem youth and adults. With the implementation of a comprehensive set of high-quality educational, social, and community-building programs — like full-day pre-K, in-class and after-school support, college preparatory classes, financial services, mentoring, and career readiness programs — the Children’s Zone has achieved real and measurable success.
The Children’s Zone’s notion that “the success of our children and the strength of the community go hand in hand” has proven to be so effective that the Obama administration created a national program that provided funding for communities across the country to replicate this model. Today, more than 60 neighborhoods across the country — including in Meriden and New Haven —have sought funding from the Department of Education to implement locally-designed strategies of school reform and community turnaround. By utilizing local leaders in driving these reforms, the Promise Neighborhood model drives change from the bottom up. It incorporates the understanding that not all communities are interchangeable. By not using a one-size-fits-all model that would implement the same reforms in Hartford as in Detroit, or in Los Angeles as in Bridgeport, the model is able to get real returns for children and families in poor neighborhoods.
There are hundreds of other neighborhoods around Connecticut and across the U.S. that would benefit from access to this program. That’s why I recently introduced the Promise Neighborhoods Authorization Act of 2015. Building on the success of programs like the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Promise Neighborhoods Authorization Act will create five-year grants to support the planning and implementation of locally developed, evidence-based programs that surround children in education, health, and social support activities from the cradle, to college, and to their career.
High-quality education and community support are instrumental to a kid’s success, and we can’t expect schools in areas of intense poverty to overcome the consequences of such poverty alone. Kids in low-income neighborhoods desperately need the support of programs like Promise Neighborhoods.
The Promise Neighborhoods Authorization Act will make it possible for millions of other low-income families to benefit from the remarkable opportunity that communities like Meriden and New Haven have already accessed. I plan to fight tooth and nail for this legislation and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to show their support.
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy represents Connecticut in the United States Senate.
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