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Can the Urban Harlem Children's Zone Model Work for Rural Schools?

Berea, Ky.

The visionary founder of the Harlem Children's Zone told rural education advocates Wednesday that the same approach that has helped to tackle the cycle of poverty in New York City can work in similar ways in their communities.

Geoffrey Canada, the president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Children's Zone, an effort he started in the 1990s to offer cradle-to-career education, health and social supports for children and their families. The zone was the inspiration for the federal Promise Neighborhood competition, which has awarded millions to communities nationwide to replicate that model.

Canada told attendees of a summit here that federal officials had asked him in the past whether that same system could work in rural areas, and he advised them it would.

"There would be differences that would be stark, but the underlying approach would be the same," said Canada during the Rural Education Summit at Berea College in Berea, Ky., that was focused on rural Promise Neighborhoods. That similar approach means significant funding committed to dealing with education, social and mental services for children and their families, he said.

Two of the federal implementation grants to create Promise Neighborhoods have gone to serve rural students, and one of those recipients was Berea College. The other was the Delta Health Alliance in Mississippi.

Canada talked less about the geographical distinction for poverty and more about the racial one. Many people think poverty is something that involves minorities, but it's much larger than that and it's affecting the entire country, he said.

"No one is talking about it because people know it regionally but they don't know it for places in the next state," he said. "I think the issue of poverty is something we've been quiet about too much."

He encouraged those present to be unashamed advocates for the poor. Solutions don't necessarily involve more money, but rather shifting how it's spent, such as from detention centers to education, he said.

"We do have the money," he said. "We don't have the will on some of the issues, and we won't get it unless we yell and scream about it. There are choices that we can make."

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