Peace in the Northside Zone

Efforts to abolish inner-city violence in Harlem, New York, astounded scientists studying the effects of the Harlem Children’s Zone Project on children’s test scores. The project’s comprehensive approach to preventing violence includes parenting workshops, charter schools, afterschool care and an obesity program designed to improve children’s health. Its results are significant compared with other approaches taken to reduce child violence in inner-city areas. The Harlem Children’s Zone website boasts, “This past spring, 100 percent of the third-graders at HCZ Promise Academy II scored at or above grade level in the statewide math tests. A few blocks away, 97 percent of the Promise Academy I third-graders were at or above grade level.”

The city of Minneapolis identified youth violence in North Minneapolis as a public health issue in 2008, and its test score disparities between white and black students are second in the nation. To mirror the effects of the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Peace Foundation and the NorthWay Community Trust formed a collaboration called The Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ). “We are building a movement to end local violence at the ground level with permanent solutions. NAZ is the antidote to violence by creating a community of achievement,” says Michelle Martin, co-chair of the steering committee. NAZ plans to combine the strength of local organizations and families to provide children in the “zone” with structure and stability in every aspect of their lives.

NAZ became operational on the ground in 2009. Liaisons are canvassing door-to-door to obtain basic geographic information and to find out where specific services are needed. The team also invites families to join NAZ Connect, a web tool that will be up and running in October 2009. By enrolling in NAZ Connect, resources can be targeted to specific families, holding the systems serving and educating the community accountable for positive outcomes.

Education is a critical area of the program because fewer and fewer children from North Minneapolis are going to college. Sondra Samuels, president of the Peace Foundation, co-chairs the education team. With over 40 education institutions in the area willing to participate, Samuels is confident that children in a multitude of programs will receive aid. Participating schools won’t need to be located in the Northside zone but will need to have a significant population of students from the Northside in their system.

The education team itself, which consists of educators from charter, public, private, colloquial and state-sponsored schools, allows the Northside Achievement Zone to extend its reach to a large number of students. “We are all very excited,” says Samuels. “When I talk to educators from these schools, they all say that they’ve never been part of a collaboration of all school disciplines. We’re in uncharted territory.”

The team will spend the rest of the year researching geographic information and teaching practices before becoming operational in schools. Samuels expects to have programs in schools by 2010.

The 20 people on the NAZ steering committee have chosen to focus on four main areas of concern: mentoring, early childhood, housing, and afterschool care. As the program gets off the ground, the committee will look into expanding into other areas of need, such as health services. Both Samuels and Martin emphasize the flexibility of the program and its potential to grow in order to provide support for Northside kids from birth to college.

Harlem Children’s Zone Project
Peace Foundation
NorthWay Community Trust
The Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ)

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