The Harlem Children’s Zone, originally called the Rheedlen Foundation, is an organization that began in 1970 in an effort to prevent truancy in Harlem. During the 1980s and 1990s, the epidemic of crack in the Harlem community caused the organization to come up with some new approaches. In 1991, Harlem Children’s Zone opened the Countee Cullen Community Center which made activities available to children on nights, weekends and throughout the summer. As the organization has progressed, it has incorporated assistants for teachers called Peacemakers to keep classrooms safe and began having other nonprofits evaluate results for optimum effectiveness.
Now the network of programs involved in the Harlem Children’s Zone includes almost a 100-block radius. The program services more than 8,000 children and 6,000 adults. Several programs have been introduced through the years to address the problems that poor families face like failing schools, crumbling apartments, violent crime and health issues. Some of the programs offered by the Harlem Children’s Zone include parenting workshops, pre-school programs and obesity programs. The goal of the Harlem Children’s Zone is to break the cycle of poverty for the children and adults in the area.
One of the most prominent programs that the Harlem Children’s Zone is known for is the Promise Academy, which is a high quality charter public school. The Promise Academy was created with the goal of giving children high quality education without the price tag of a private school. To make the admissions process fair, students are admitted through a lottery system.
There are a total of three Promise Academy schools and the students have extended school days and an extended school year. This gives them the time they need to master their curriculum. All meals are prepared from fresh foods, and a health clinic was added in 2006 that offers free medical and dental care to the students.
Students are held to a high academic expectation and they have been delivering. At Promise Academy II, 100 percent of the third-graders performed at or above their grade level on the 2008 statewide math test. At Promise Academy I, 97 percent of the third-graders performed at or above their grade level in math. At Promise Academy I middle school, the students entered sixth grade and were two to three years behind those grade levels. The eighth-graders scored 87 percent at or above grade level on the latest statewide math test, although they entered the school with only 40 percent of the students at their proper grade level.
The current president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone is Geoffrey Canada. He started with the organization in 1983 as an education director. Mr. Canada was named president and CEO in 1990. The Children’s Zone, under Mr. Canada’s leadership, has been praised for the results received and the positive impact on the Harlem community.
Mr. Canada grew up in the South Bronx in a poor and sometimes violent neighborhood. He was able to overcome his surroundings and receive a bachelor’s degree and even a master’s degree from Harvard. Mr. Canada wanted to devote himself to helping other children have the opportunity to receive a quality education despite their background or income level. He has stayed committed to the children and families of Harlem, and is actively helping the residents succeed in ways they may have never thought possible.