Promise Grant announced, to help inner-city youth
UALR and its local partners were awarded one of 21 Promise Neighborhood planning grants, worth $430,000, which will be used to work with local public schools, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Central Arkansas Library System, New Futures for Youth and the City of Little Rock, to provide opportunities for more than 10,000 children in central Little Rock.
UALR leads the project, coordinating all aspects, and is creating a comprehensive data system that will track educational, health, family and community support indicators for the thousands of children and families involved. The area of concern contains seven census tracts and is bounded by I-630 to the north, Boyle Park to the west, Fourche Creek Bottoms to the south and Martin Luther King Drive to the east.
“We are using a pipeline approach to try to change the community,” University District Educational Network Director Julie Hall said. “The most important thing is that we create a coordinated system between the different organizations involved.”
Much of the approach may be likened to the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a community-based organization offering education, social service and community-building programs to children and families in Harlem since 1970. The program follows a cradle-to-career system that encourages children as young as kindergarten to attend college and offers a multitude of programs and volunteers that stay with the children until graduation. The HCZ has a 90 percent graduation rate among college students in its program.
“We are using the HCZ as a model,” Hall said. “We want to build on existing funds and link programs to break the cycle of generational poverty in our area.”
The basis of the program lies within the schools: Bale, Franklin and Stephens elementary schools; Forest Heights Middle School; and Hall High School. “We will do whatever it takes to make schools more effective,” Hall said.
One thing already in motion is a reading program at elementary schools. Sophomore Chemistry major Corey Graham volunteers two to three hours, two days a week. “I’m not just a talking head like in class,” Graham said. “I’m actually hands on with the kids and working toward a change that will create a domino effect throughout the community.”
Graham also coaches fourth and fifth grade girls’ and boys’ basketball. “It’s nice to come in and provide a service that the school wouldn’t usually have, and I learn more about myself and get some interpersonal gain from it. Plus, it’s a personal accomplishment to be able to help someone else’s kid,” he said.
Along with public school assistance, the Promise Neighborhood has also teamed up with the Central Arkansas Library System to create a brand new children’s library off of 12th Street near the Little Rock Zoo.
Don Ernst of the Central Arkansas Library System said “the promise Neighborhood model is consistent with our vision for the Children’s Initiative and the new Children’s Library and Learning Center. The [Initiative] will focus on providing academic, social, green, and healthy enrichment for the children of Little Rock through after-school and summer programming.”
UALR students can get involved with the programs by doing volunteer work at elementary schools. Bale Elementary is currently looking for student volunteers for reading days.
“The goal is to give kids a better idea of what college students are really like and encourage them to start planning to attend college in the future,” Hall said.