Can we learn something from Harlem?

The foillowing is a link to a podcast from an American Radio show which talks about the work of Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone

The radio show is about people who dare to think BIG and Geoffrey Canada has certainly done that.

He had a belief that focusing on Harlems children from pre-birth up was the only way to break the cycle of poverty he saw in Harelm. He had seen years of programs that aimed to break the poverty cycle by focusing on changing parents, or changing their environment through work programs etc. He argued for a shift from trying to change things for parents / adults – to parents and communities changing things for their children.  He envisioned a ‘conveyor belt’ that supported children from Harlem to Harvard. He has worked to put a comprehensive program in place that supports parents to make a difference for their children using simple things that can be done by all parents and communities.

The Harlems Children zone is ambitious and appears to be successsful, but is also simple.

As I understand what I have heard and read – thinking big seems to have been a critical part of its success (see the results page at the link on the bottom of this page) becasue it is the seamlessness of the support as well as the engagement of parents that is a large part of its success. For many childen in this challenged community discrete packages of support at different stages is simply not enough. This program aims to provide a ‘conveyor belt’ which children and their parents can join from before birth right through to a college place. But this is not a passive support program that simply does things for parents – it challenges parents to read, sing and play with children as well as to change entrenched attitudes to displine. It is also focused on outcomes – making a difference to how children from Harlem cope with school and education so that they get more benefits (including better attainment).

Much of what Geoffrey Canda has created is already provided by services in East Lothian – but I think we still have a lot to learn from the approach –  BIG thinking – simple actions – would this combination helps us to reverse the gap in health and social outcomes evident for children across East Lothian? 


Harlem Childrens Zone website