Harlem educator talks about getting poor students on road to success

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By Denise Amos 

Geoffrey Canada, nationally known for putting thousands of Harlem students on a path to college, told about 400 community leaders Wednesday that they ought to support similar efforts in Jacksonville.

Canada is best known for creating the Harlem Children’s Zone more than 20 years ago. What started on one city block and grew to more than 100 blocks weaves together a variety of community assets — from charter schools and neighborhood schools to social service and health programs — all focused on breaking the cycle of poverty and giving some of New York’s poorest children college careers.

After 20 years, it’s working, Canada said.

The two Promise Academy charter schools run by the zone have a 97 percent college acceptance rate and at least 938 of their graduates are in college, the nonprofit says. These are children who lived in public housing or whose parents’ low incomes qualified them for charter school admission, Canada said.

The zone also provides after-school and other programs to six traditional elementary schools nearby. Its network of partnerships and agencies feature parenting workshops, all-day preschool, a “Truce” after-school program for teens, health and dental services, even eyeglasses. And the zone puts middle-schoolers and high-schoolers on college campuses to tour and receive academic help.

The zone serves more than 13,000 children and 14,000 adults a year. That can be expensive.

About 62 percent of the Children Zone’s $159 million in annual revenue last year came from private supporters, according to its annual report; 88 percent went to programs and services, rather than to administration and advertising.

“You’d think a lot less of me if you saw me fundraising,” Canada said. “I’m prepared to kiss the ring and other body parts. ... When it comes to my kids, I have no ego involved.”

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