And How are the Children..?

Posts Tagged ‘community

What a day! 2 Skill-building sessions, a few minutes with the kids, and a cavalcade of talented, amazing colleagues in early childhood care and education.

I started the day with Lori Jensen’s session: Leaving a Strengths-Based Legacy. This was a coaching skills workshop, where the very energetic Lori Jensen (Ph.D.) described myriad practical ways to learn about making the best use of people’s strengths. She presented this somewhat counterintuitive idea, which turns out to make a lot of sense: Don’t try too much to improve on weaknesses, but rather invest most of your time and energy in improving things that people are already good at. Jensen shared a good-sized bucket of research that supports this notion. We did a few group activities, plenty of reflection on our own experiences, and had a good group discussion.

Don't Get So Upset - T. Jacobson

Don't Get So Upset - T. Jacobson

After lunch, I bought a new book: ‘Don’t Get So Upset!: Help Young Children Manage their Feelings by Understanding Your Own” by Tamar Jacobson, Ph.D. I’m very excited about this (though I really wanted to get Perspectives on Gender in Early Childhood – edited by Jacobson, but it was cost prohibitive, alas) because I read Jacobson’s ‘Confronting Our Discomfort’ during my graduate internship and found it to be so transformative: a great foundational text for someone studying Anti-Bias Education. These days, finding the balance between patience and anger are more challenging than ever before, so I appreciate finding a book that touches on that topic by an author whom I admire. I’ll let you know how the book goes if I ever get a chance to read it. Just kidding – I’ll find time. I will.

Second session: One Size Doesn’t Fit All – The Coach’s Role in Professional Development, by Cate Heroman. Somehow, I did not consciously realize how my conference choices had all coalesced around the theme of ‘coaching.’ The pre-conference seminar and both of today’s workshops were all about coaching, consultation and leadership. In today’s afternoon session, Cate Heroman talked about the kinds of mentors that have the greatest impact on our lives, and the traits that we brainstormed reflected what the opening keynote speaker talked about when he described characteristics of leaders, for example trust. Trust keeps coming up again and again – I guess because these topics have to do with relationship-based support (i.e. coaching and consultation). The opening keynote talked about that, too. Trust and building relationships to move forward. These themes were reflected again later on in the evening during the Fireside Chats.

Heroman ran a fun, focused workshop. The conversation was pretty lively, and she has a spark of fun that lightens the experience. Prior to the session, I took the opportunity to introduce myself as a Twitter friend. It’s a strange, but fun experience meeting people in real life after piecing together online relationships based on brief comments, web links, and tiny photographs.

Enjoyed meeting Twitterfriend Cate Heroman IRL!

After the afternoon session, I spent a few rejuvenating minutes with my family. My dear, dear husband came up to pick up milk for our one-year-old, and I was so pleased to see them when I opened my hotel room door! As great as it is to have the Heavenly Bed to myself, I’ve missed them, and have definitely gotten a boost from seeing them, however briefly. Same with the ‘Say goodnight’ calls at bedtime. I thank my husband for his support and participation.

The Champions for Change Dinner with Paula Jorde Bloom and Teri Telan was enjoyable – good food and good conversation. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Maria Gandara of Sunshine Learning Home & Day Care – a tireless local advocate for children and families, and home-based child care providers, especially. She was vocal about desire among home-based providers for the development of a credential that addresses their unique service issues and competencies, which turned out to be a pretty hot topic of conversation. I listened a lot and didn’t talk much (a rarity), and afterward made my way to the fireside chat, which turned out to be a anniversary celebration of McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership (25 years!) as well as a surprise celebration of the career and work of Paula Jorde Bloom.

Luis Hernandez facilitates.

Luis Hernandez

After a hilarious introduction by Luis Hernandez (McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership Advisory Board member), people took turns describing how their careers had progressed and how they experienced Dr. Bloom’s influence, or been involved with MCECL over the years. What an invaluable set of accounts, not just for the sentimental value, but also for the historical perspective available in the telling of these stories that overlap and intertwine over decades. I was so pleased to be there to hear it. How inspiring! Advisory board members shared their stories, and then everyone in the room had a chance to share their experiences of how Dr. Bloom and the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership had touched their lives, and the lives of people they serve (someone from Singapore got up to tell Dr. Bloom that she has touched many lives in her country as well).  This is where that theme of trust and leadership was revisited – a few people related their experiences of Paula’s exceptional leadership, and that it has been characterized by trust, among other things.  It must feel very good to have all of the themes of your leadership conference culminate in a discussion about your leadership.  What a legacy!

Then there was coffee and cake. A lovely end to a very full day.

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I feel as though this experience is coming to a head, but I’m too tired to reflect on it properly. Trust me, though: once it all sinks in, I will break it all down. Until then…


These are my final thoughts on Replicating Harlem Children’s Zone in Chicago,  an event hosted by Loyola University last week featuring Paul Tough, and a panel of local human services and education experts.  Tough is the author of Whatever it Takes, a book chronicling Geoffrey Canada’s work creating and managing the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York.  I attended and wrote a live blog of the event last week.

During the Q&A session, there seemed to be an air of skepticism in the room, which is not surprising.  One woman asked very plainly, how can this mixed funding structure work in a state where the budget is not doing well, and human services has taken such a big hit?  The essence of that statement is not so much a question of where matching dollars will come from, but rather, if we don’t have the collective will to pull it together and fund the myriad programs and services already in place, then how will we manage to get something like HGZ going?  Paul Tough described Geoffrey Canada’s statement to potential Promise grant hopefuls at the HCZ conference, in which he told them, basically, ‘If you only think you can do this with the grant money, you should leave now.’  It’s a hard statement, but a necessary one.   Budget troubles of the past year make it quite clear that the most powerful among us have not been prioritizing the well-being of people who are poor, who have the most need.  To be realistic, we have to question whether or not the dedication is there.

Chicago would have a truly formidable system of comprehensive social supports for families that struggle with poverty and lack of resources, if only the programs that currently exist could pull together under a common/shared set of goals.  If service providers would view themselves as links in a chain, they could be so powerful.  It is unfortunate that many service providers are fairly uninspired, and end up serving to perpetuate the status quo.  And as panel member Azim Ramelize stated, if things are going to change, it won’t be business as usual.  I think it is difficult for many people who have been serving in non-profits for years to see anything beyond business as usual.  But I also think that there are many, many people in non-profits who are tired of business-as-usual, tired of feeling like their work is a drop in the ocean, tired of talking themselves into believing in what they do every day.  Some of those people must have been in the audience that night, looking for a thicker strand of hope to pull on.

From what I’ve read, hope is much of what Geoffrey Canada’s concept is riding on now: hope with an almost desperate promise of metrics, if we could all be patient for a while.  And many of us are willing to be patient, because we believe as we have believed for years, that he’s making it happen – he’s doing it.  He’s doing what we thought should be done all along: comprehensive services, for all stages of childhood, supportive of the family and community as well as the child.  This is the silent promise we’ve been imagining, and Canada actually managed to speak the promise out loud.  And it’s a little tense, because we have this seed of fear deep within us that something bad will happen, and when the math is all done, it won’t be proven.  Our children won’t succeed, even with all of this money and effort, and then no one will invest in them ever again.

But I do believe.  I think it must work, once all is said and done.  These families that are going through the Harlem Children’s Zone will be generally better off, better prepared.  These children who are starting in the Harlem Gems, and going through the HCZ schools and programs will do better than they would have done, statistically speaking, and will advance further as a group.  I am reminded of the new Illinois Action for Children mission: Strong families, powerful communities, where children matter most.  The HCZ model essentially creates a community environment where children do matter most; where money is spent on their education, and they are shored up on all sides.  We shall see how it all plays out, but I think that it really does take this much money and effort to level the playing field, considering how much goes into throwing it off-balance. When the panel responded to the woman who asked about state funds, each response resonated along the same lines: it’s not that we don’t spend money on children, it’s that we spend it on the wrong things.  I appreciate that they were willing to name this as a problem.  This kind of programming would reflect an increased dedication to the success of children in all of our communities.

It was good to hear the perspectives of the different experts, but with such a diverse audience, I would have liked to have heard more of a conversation between the panel and the audience, or even among and between the panel members.  Less lecturing, more interacting.  Ultimately, I don’t think we got a good sense of what it would take to bring Promise Neighborhoods to Chicago, besides hearing people say the phrase “political will” over and over again.  One issue that was touched on, though not in-depth, was the fact of Canada being a charismatic leader who drives the program with his own determination; Can anyone expect to replicate that?  It makes me think of that book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, in which his colleagues admit that at a certain point, the organization that he founded was essentially advancing based on Mortenson’s reputation and personal character.  Not that other people were not involved or highly dedicated, but when one person’s relentless will and determination breathe life into a project, it is difficult for someone else to take the helm, or to create the same effect without that charismatic leader.  Can Promise Neighborhoods work with dedicated teams that are not led by a desperately ambitious, intensely driven go-getter with a compelling personal story?  I think much could be done if a strong replication model is developed, but I also think that it is an issue worth investigating further.  Canada’s vision is genius, but genius tends to be obsessive and willing to sacrifice a lot.  Can Promise Neighborhoods find that in enough leaders besides Canada to take Obama’s money and spend it well?  I hope so.

The idea of Promise Neighborhoods and the model of the Harlem Children’s Zone is very exciting for people who want to serve children and families.  Along with that excitement, however, comes a healthy degree of wariness.  Will this happen?  Can it?  Our time and resources are so limited – will this be worth the effort?  These Promise dollars will be highly sought after, so I am confident that more events will follow.  I look forward to seeing how Chicago rises to this challenge, and whether or not we can make the most of this opportunity.

I am very pleased to announce that I will be attending

Vivian Gussin Paley, Building Community Through Play: How Friendship, Fantasy and Fairness Become the Building Blocks of a New Society

Tuesday, March 2, 2010, 7-8:30 pm, Washburne Junior High School Auditorium, 515 Hibbard Rd, Winnetka, IL

I am an admirer of Ms. Gussin Paley’s work, and I am particularly excited to hear her ideas about building community and society.

I will be covering the event on this blog, so stay tuned!

For more info about the event, check out Vivian Paley, 2010.

3:30 pm

I am at Loyola University Law School, and the program in starting. The room is full, and there is quite a range of attendees, from college professors to high school students.

Loyola Sponsors: Loyola School of Law Street Law Program, Civitas Child Law, School for Urban Research and Learning, to name a few.

3:41 pm

I see Barbara Bowman is on the panel.  I don’t recognize other panel members by sight, I’m hoping that I’ll recognize their names.

Stat note: 12,865 homeless children in CPS currently.

Rob Wildeboer (WBEZ) is the moderator, he is involved with a project on juvenile justice, and has a background in criminal law.

Rob Wildeboer:  “We want to engage in the modest task of solving poverty is Chicago today”  He is a funny guy.  Personable, but clearly serious about the topic.

3:48 pm

Paul Tough is up now, discussing Geoffrey Canada, the man behind the development and management of the now famous Harlem Children’s Zone.  He’s telling some of his life story, and describes how Canada felt “like a failure” in spite of his all-american, beat-the-odds success story.  Creating the Harlem Children’s Zone was Canada’s response to this feeling of failure, feeling like too many poor children were falling through the cracks to failure and death.

Tough spent five years in Harlem studying Canada’s work, which resulted in his published work.  Now he is talking about the achievement gap between upper and lower socioeconomic groups and how it affects children’s education.  According to Tough, spending time talking to children and families in Harlem really brought the statistics home for him.

3:57 pm

Baby College, 3 yo Journey, Harlem Gems, Promise Academy.  Family counseling, after-school tutoring, and parent support.  These are the 2 tiers of strategy that Tough describes as making up the network that comprises the HGZ programming.  The first four are the programs focused on children.  The others are supports that shore up the other social systems that children exist in.

The White House has asked for 210 million dollars to fund Promise Neighborhoods, on president Obama’s initiative.  Cities across the country are interested and looking into ways to replicate the HCZ approach, says Tough.

4:23 pm (Barbara Bowman’s comments were not covered due to technical difficulties – sorry!)

Bradley Stolbach – expert on child trauma.

Per Stolbach: Can’t discuss trauma without discussing race and ethnicity of the victims… states a couple of statistics: On southside of Chicago an estimated 75% of children have witness robbery, assault or killing.  He is curious to know how Harlem’s Children’s Zone addresses such statistics in it’s own community.

Problem with HCZ: There are some deficits in these families that we need address; the HCZ model puts a lot on the children and families without addressing the need for society to take care of people, according to Stolbach.

I’m not sure that I fully agree with that statement…

Stolbach says, if HCZ says to children and families that they are worthy, in a world where they are often told they are not worthy, then he will be on board for it.

He also notes that less than 15% of the money funding HCZ is public money.  He is concerned that a “sliver” of interested funders are serving a sliver of children, and that this might let the rest of us “off the hook” for addressing the needs of these children and families.

4:29 pm

Azim Ramelize is the Asst. Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Dept. of Family and Support Services.  His first comment: I am that kid. Describes his background in the Bronx, violent past turned around.

Ramelize comments, “If someone from another treated our kids the way we treat our kids, we would go to war.”  (Said to much applause).  He says that it is “important to address every problem holding a poor kid back.” He says they are trying to do some of this in Chicago, cites it as the brilliant thing that Geoffrey Canada has done.

Describes how the standard of achievement is white middle class kids, and encourages us to think about the ways that we define the standard.

Says that any brilliant education system will not punish kids who know how to think (as opposed to knowing how to regurgitate facts).

Ramelize speaks as though he really has a heart for Chicago, and discusses the different kinds of communities.  Says that we really need to be smart and inclusive, citing different ethnic groups and communities that reside within Chicago.

Ramelize makes a special comment to the kids in the audience, encouraging them not to accept labels put on them, but to work hard to achieve what they want.

He says that in applying to make Promise Neighborhood grants that it “will not be business as usual,” and that it really is a different approach.  Next speaker…

4:42 pm

Chris Brown of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), here in place of Susana Vasquez.

Programming for their Elevate program does intervention with middle school-aged children.  Have supported 3 neighborhood orgs: Woodlawn, Logan Square, and Chicago Lawn.  Also sent some people to the HCZ conference.  Says they want to support people to plan well for applying for Promise Neighborhood funding, and hopefully bring several to Chicago.

Says one thing they are attracted to in HCZ model is “incredible dedication to accountability,” and also the way the program pays attention to the “joints in children’s lives,” places where children “often get dropped.”

One critique he offers is that HCZ doesn’t do enough to engage and support parents and the community-at-large, and feels that some feel as though the community is the problem and that they are saving children from the community.

He also states that there are concerns that the program costs a lot and there is little data on outcomes as of yet.

According to Brown, what we need to think about is:

  • Integration of current services: we have a lot of great services going on in Chicago, how do we incorporate them?
  • Leadership: Are there people in Chicago that can do this work?
  • Other communities: Will it suck up resources and be detrimental to others communities?
  • Maintaining high quality: How do we keep focus on high-quality over time?  Do people have the political will to do this on the scale it needs to be done?

4:52 pm

Q&A Session…

I am taking notes on the Q&A comments and will follow up with another post after the event is over so I can follow the conversation and make relevant comments on the remainder of the event.  Thanks for reading!

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