Harlem Children’s Zone for Chicago?

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Three Chicago neighborhoods are taking the first steps toward potential
replication of the Harlem Children’s Zone, the highly-praised program
that provides education and social support to poor children and
families in Central Harlem.

Representatives from social service agencies in Chicago Lawn, Logan
Square and Woodlawn will travel to New York City in the coming weeks to
attend a multi-day conference and a ‘practitioner’s institute’ for
organizations that are interested in launching Promise Neighborhoods,
an initiative of the Obama Administration modeled on the Children’s
Zone.

Three Chicago neighborhoods are taking the first steps toward potential replication of the Harlem Children’s Zone, the highly-praised program that provides education and social support to poor children and families in Central Harlem.

Representatives from social service agencies in Chicago Lawn, Logan Square and Woodlawn will travel to New York City in the coming weeks to attend a multi-day conference and a ‘practitioner’s institute’ for organizations that are interested in launching Promise Neighborhoods, an initiative of the Obama Administration modeled on the Children’s Zone.

The U.S. Department of Education budget includes $10 million for one-year planning grants for Promise Neighborhoods, which President Barack Obama has said he would like to see launched in 20 cities across the country.

The three Chicago neighborhoods are part of the New Communities Program, a long-term development effort overseen by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in 16 struggling neighborhoods. LISC organized the trip and received funding for it from Atlantic Philanthropies, an international foundation that supports the Children’s Zone.

The trip will be “a chance to see how [the Children’s Zone] works, how it might fit with community-led initiatives and what replicating it would look like,” says Chris Brown, director of education programs for LISC. In Chicago last year, Atlantic Philanthropies awarded $18 million over four years to LISC for an initiative called Integrated Services in Schools, which supports academics for middle-school students through  a longer school day, enrichment programs and health services.

Representatives from New Communities agencies—the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, the Southwest Organizing Project in Chicago Lawn, and the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corporation–will make the trek to New York.

The meat of the trip will be the practitioners’ institute, a three-day, by-application-only program that gives agencies a behind-the-scenes look at how the Children’s Zone operates, including a tour and meetings with staff. The goal is to help communities identify their existing resources and needs, in order to craft a coordinated strategy for replicating the Children’s Zone locally.

While the Harlem project has had striking success stories, serving thousands of youngsters and getting them on track academically, achieving those results takes significant resources. In a Wall Street Journal article earlier this year, Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada talked about the challenges of maintaining funding during the current recession.

“It’s a $65 million a year operation. That’s a huge undertaking,” Brown notes.