arlem Children’s Zone’s first graduating class has provided new evidence that something must be going right at the 125th Street complex. 100 percent of them were admitted to college, according to the Open Society Institute’s blog.
About 21 percent of African-Americans in New York City held at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the 2010 census. Filmmaker Spike Lee spoke at the Promise Academy I’s class of 2012 graduation, saying: “I’m really proud of you guys, because we live in a society where education is not a priority. How many times have you guys been ostracized as an Oreo, a sellout, because you’re getting good grades? Education has always been the key for us as a people to achieve. And you are a shining example of what our ancestors dreamed about 400 years ago.” The video above compiles images and audio from the ceremony.
Most of Promise Academy I’s 2012 class started attending the charter school 6 years ago when they were in 6th grade, after winning a spot in the school through its admission lottery.
When Harlem Children’s Zone opened Promise Academy I in 2004, the school struggled just like many new charter schools do. State test scores in English lagged behind the citywide scores and fell among the lowest within New York City charter schools. The first class enrolled in the school performed so poorly that the school’s board dismissed all of them before they reached ninth grade, arguing that the class was too weak to build a high school upon, The New York Times reports.
Such incidents and stats have prompted critics to say there’s no evidence that Harlem Children’s Zone works. Yet Promise Academy I and Promise Academy II outperformed New York City schools on their math state tests, with 60 percent passing in one school and 81 percent in the other, in 2010.
Harlem Children’s Zone has garnered praise from leaders around the world and prompted attempts to replicate it. Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $500,000 grants to non-profits in 20 communities who want to create their own, the New York Post reports.
One of the grants went to “Lutheran Family Health Centers in Brooklyn — which will target Sunset Park — and the Abyssinian Development Corp. in Manhattan, which will create an educational safety net in central Harlem,” the Post reports.