05/24/2014 09:02 EDT | Updated 07/24/2014 05:59 EDT

What to know about the Education Department's Promised Neighborhoods grant program

WASHINGTON - Torn by violence and poverty, residents of the Kenilworth-Parkside neighbourhood in the nation's capital were leery when the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative promised to tackle generational poverty in a new way.

But Sharita Slayton, a community liaison, said the program gave them "a second chance to get it right."

Five things to know about Promised Neighborhoods and what the program is doing in Kenilworth-Parkside.



The Education Department awards Promised Neighborhood grants to local organizations to provide "cradle to career" services for children and their families. A main goal is improving the academic performance of students. Neighborhood demographics and the success and failures of programming are to be carefully tracked.

"It's a way to change the way in which we as a nation can approach communities around poverty," said Elson Nash, the department's team leader for the program. "If we're able to do these types of initiatives, place-based initiatives that build the capacity of schools, parents and communities, we leave a lasting mark so that beyond the federal funding they can approach these issues on their own."



The Harlem's Children's Zone in New York is the primary model for Promised Neighborhood. Started by Geoffrey Canada, the Harlem program takes a holistic approach well beyond the classroom to provide for the needs of children and their families. Programs range from preschool to tax preparation.

Then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., championed the idea of funding Promise Neighborhoods. As president, he pushed through the effort.



Recipients meet qualifications such as showing they can match funds for the program. They also must operate or partner with at least one low-performing school.



Multiyear Promised Neighborhood implementation grants have been awarded in 12 communities, including in the District of Columbia, Chula Vista, California and Indianola, Mississippi. Several other communities have received planning grants to develop plans under the program. About $160 million has been awarded to grantees in at least 20 states.



The initiative was the brainchild of Irasema Salcido, founder of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School in Kenilworth-Parkside. After discovering that children were performing below grade-level in math and reading, she joined forces with Alma Powell, head of the board of directors for America's Promise Alliance.

The initiative set up shop in the abandoned Kenilworth Elementary School building. Classrooms were converted into computer labs and children's play areas. The old gym became a boxing training area with a ring.

Computer training for adults was started and a parent resource centre opened. After-school programming provided children with homework help, hip-hop dancing, boxing and digital media learning.