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The Model

25 July 2011

The Boys and GIrls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation was one of 21 organizations to receive a Promise Neighborhoods planning grant from the Department of Education in September 2010. It is the only grantee affiliated with a Native American tribe.


The Promise Neighborhoods grant program is an attempt to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone in communities across the United States. The Harlem Children’s Zone is a comprehensive, place-based strategy of community change: within the 96-block radius of the Zone, children are supported by a “pipeline” of community supports, carrying them from birth through college graduation and career. This means parenting classes for parents of children ages 0-3, full-day preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds, after-school programs and tutoring for each grade, programs to address asthma, nutritional deficiencies and vision problems. The HCZ also operates two charter schools within the Zone, which like all charter schools, must allocate admission by lottery.  After nearly a decade with the full pipeline in operation, 98% of students at the Zone’s Promise Academy score on or above grade level in math ( Economists Dobbie and Fryer (2010) claim that this success is entirely attributable to the charter schools, asserting that the community programs make little to no contribution to test scores.


Perhaps because starting and operating excellent new schools is an expensive and complicated venture, or because nonprofit organizations tend to specialize more in organizing than educating, efforts to create new Promise Neighborhoods have centered around the community supports of the Harlem Children’s Zone, particularly HCZ’s focus on coordinating between existing programs, to build continuity through every age and aspect of childhood. The Department of Education emphasizes that partnerships with local low-performing schools are an essential feature of any Promise Neighborhood, but visible progress in that dimension is always slow.


I don’t know much yet about the work of the other grantees, but I volunteer with the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community during the school year, and this summer I am working for the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative of the Boys and Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation.


Here in Lame Deer, the Promise Neighborhood has three full-time and two part-time staff. Marissa, graduate of the reservation’s Catholic school serves as Project Director; Paige, originally from a reservation in Western Montana, is Project Coordinator; and Allen, also Northern Cheyenne, the Data Collection and Administrative Assistant, comprise the full time staff. Lane, a college student from the reservation, and Jen, a VISTA volunteer, spend a few days each week on Promise Neighborhoods. Some other functions are handled through the Club’s existing staff, in particular the Chief Professional Officer (CPO) and the informal director.


The planning year has focused so far on building partnerships with local schools and health providers, obtaining baseline data on key indicators required by the grant, and conducting a needs assessment. This last component involves holding community meetings in each town of the reservation community to solicit residents’ perspectives, as well as the larger task of designing and conducting surveys of youth, parents, and young adults. Youth ages 10-18 were surveyed at school, but Promise Neighborhoods has hired 25 community members to go door-to-door in every area of the reservation to survey young adults (ages 18-30) and parents of children ages 0-10. Allen and I are charged with entering the data collected into the online database, which the survey contractor will then analyze.

The view, just south of Lame Deer.

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