By Mary Flynn
An ambitious program designed to alter the future of thousands of residents of Hayward’s most vulnerable neighborhood has had its official launch after nearly a year of implementation. If it is successful, the program’s reach could spread to other communities across the country.
The Hayward Promise Neighborhood is an initiative billed as attempt to break the cycle of poverty for residents of Hayward’s Jackson Triangle while improving the educational outcomes of its children. Organizers hosted a recent festival on a warm, sunny Saturday to launch support services and get the community involved.
In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a 5-year, $25 million grant to establish the Hayward Promise Neighborhood. It was one of only five Promise Neighborhood grants awarded, and the only one on the west coast.
Applying for the grant was a year-long process, during which the partners conducted research to determine the needs of the neighborhood. They identified several components they believe will build the foundation for youth success. These components include health, access to technology, safety, community stability and family engagement.
“Ask yourself, what is it that high socioeconomic status kids automatically have that enable them to succeed?,” said Carolyn Nelson, the Principal Investigator for the Hayward Promise Neighborhood, and Dean for the College of Education and Allied Studies at California State University East Bay (CSUEB), the project’s leading organization.
She explained that things like attending preschool or having a ‘health home’ — a doctor’s office or clinic where they get consistent, coordinated medical care — allow higher socioeconomic students to have better educational outcomes. The Promise Neighborhood hopes to provide those opportunities to kids in the Jackson Triangle.
Over a thousand community members gathered for the festival at Harder Elementary School, one of six schools that will receive program funding and support. Student volunteers from CSUEB provided games and activities for kids, while parents were able to tour information booths detailing the program’s offered services. Many of the services and resources already existed, often running parallel to each other, but the Promise initiative gets them talking to each other.
“There are a lot of resources out there, but it’s hard for parents to work their way through the bureaucracy to access them,” Nelson said. “The work of these partners coming together gives the opportunity for lots of these partners to get the information out to the neighborhood, in ways that weren’t being done before.”
One service made available through the Promise Neighborhood funding is Project 2-Inspire. Aimed at under-served parents, Project 2-Inspire is a parent engagement course that develops leadership among parents, and gives them the skills and tools they need to navigate the educational system, and support and advocate for their children’s education.
Martha Montufar, a Coordinator and Trainer for Project 2-Inspire, says this kind of instruction is particularly important for parents in immigrant and minority families (52 percent of the residents of the Jackson Triangle are Hispanic, 14 percent are Asian, and 14 percent are African American).
“Understanding the U.S. system, for many of us immigrants here, it’s different,” she said, and added that understanding the system was a problem among Caucasian and African American cultures too.
“There’s a lot of shyness and guilt and things that we have as parents that prevent us from really playing that role of coming out and asking for things and asking for accountability, especially if we don’t know the language, or if it’s a different culture,” she said.
Since January of this year, CSUEB and its 14 partners have been busy implementing programs to help the project meet its goals. Some of what’s been accomplished so far: Chabot College hosted a Summer Bridge Program, which provided math and science instruction for rising 5th and 9th graders. Nearly 90 students attended. Two new preschools have been started at Harder Elementary, and the school received five new key staff members: a youth intervention specialist, two academic coaches, a parent engagement leader, and a school psychologist. Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center is working with nursing students from CSUEB to provide outreach and health care services in the community.
“It’s a really exciting time for this community,” said Hector Garcia, principal at Harder Elementary. “It’s natural that there’s a lot of community [members] that might feel a little apprehensive, that this is a big change that’s happening, some leadership might even feel that way,” he said.
Garcia said that communication and community support is going to be crucial to the success of the project.
“There’s $25 million in play here,” he said. “It is critical that they know what are the services and what are the deliverables they should expect to receive…You, as a community member have every right to know what that is going to fund. “
“I think without that buy-in, the community feels it’s being done to them, not necessarily something they are contributing to,” he said.
Several parents that showed up to the festival didn’t quite understand what a Promise Neighborhood was, if they had heard the term at all. They came because someone from the school district had called them.
Carolyn Nelson said that the purpose of the festival was to launch awareness about the Promise Neighborhood. Everyone that attended was also given a brochure explaining the program among other materials.
“This whole festival was to get people excited about the work, get people to ask questions about the work, to let people know that this partnership is about them, and their children,” Nelson said.
However, if the program is able to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which the Promise Neighborhood initiative is modeled after, it could mean widespread changes in the way the community approaches education.
“If we’re able to show that [success], it’s giving a message to legislators, policy makers, the public in general, that when we do get all on the same page, that it can have a huge impact on a community,” Garcia said. “Not just in high school graduation rates over 90%, but college graduation rates, and entering into a career – that it’s a possibility, that it’s not necessarily something that’s just talk, but that it can actually be fulfilled.”