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Harlem, Sunset Park groups win promise neighborhood grants

Two New York City groups won federal grants today that will give them one year to figure out how to recreate the Harlem Children’s Zone in other corners of the city.

One winner, the Abyssinian Development Corporation, plans to duplicate the Zone’s work practically next-door to the iconic organization in central Harlem. Another, the Lutheran Family Health Centers would focus on Sunset Park, Brooklyn — a neighborhood that has witnessed an influx of students who are recent immigrants and speak little English.

The groups won about $500,000 each and a year to decide exactly what their “promise neighborhoods” (as the grant is called) would look like. This doesn’t mean they have the government’s assurance of more funding to get their plans off the ground. President Obama has asked Congress for $200 million for implementation.

Promise Neighborhood grants are part of the Obama administration’s goal to replicate Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, an anti-poverty experiment that follows children from birth to adulthood. Zeroing in on a few neighborhood blocks in Harlem, the Children’s Zone offers parenting classes, after school activities, and has started its own network of charter schools. The program has received high praise — and some questions about the strength of its results so far and its scalability.

Abyssinian’s promise neighborhood would include two public schools: Thurgood Marshall Academy and Bread & Roses High School. The latter is one of New York State’s lowest performing schools and will receive federal grant money this year to hire top-tier teachers, work with outside organizations, and improve its curriculum. It also has a new principal this year.

Better known as a hospital than an education-focused organization, the Lutheran Family Health Centers have pulled in other groups with some expertise, such as the the School of Education of Brooklyn College. Their promise neighborhood would include P.S. 24, an elementary school with a new principal, I.S. 136 (Sunset Park Prep), M.S. 821, and the Sunset Park High School.

In total, 300 groups applied for planning grants — 13 in New York City — and there were 21 winners sharing a total $10 million. Another group, the Westminster Foundation, won a planning grant that would focus on schools in Buffalo, New York.