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Harlem Children's Zone official speaks in city

Date: 1/26/2010

Jan. 27, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- Laura Vural, director of education of the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), was in Holyoke on Jan. 22, not only to discuss strategies to improve the educational infrastructure of the city, but also to listen to strategies local organizations and schools have already undertaken.

Vural's talk was hosted by The Care Center, an alternative education program for pregnant and parenting teens.

Vural told Reminder Publications prior to the event that the goal of HCZ has been to create a "pipeline from the cradle to college to community" for young people.

Referring to one of the organization's programs, "Baby College," Vural said, "The earlier we get to them, the more engaged they are."

Since 1970 the HCZ has been involved in a comprehensive approach to education that includes social service and community-building programs. Ninety percent of high school seniors leaving HCZ programs go on to college.

According to the organization's Web site, "The HCZ Project began as a one-block pilot in the 1990s, then following a 10-year business plan, it expanded to 24 blocks and then 60 blocks. The goal is to serve 15,000 children and 7,000 adults by 2011. The budget for the HCZ Project for fiscal year 2009 [was] over $40 million, costing an average of $3,500 per child."

Vural said the HCZ's program encourages educational and social service entities in a community to collaborate on solutions. She said the communities must address gaps of service that are specific to an individual community's needs.

The HCZ approach has been a wholistic one with data driven techniques to address each child who is struggling academically, she explained.

She said the organization doesn't rely on government funding, but rather on private donations and foundations.

The Obama Administration has stated an interest in bring the HCZ program to 20 inner city neighborhoods, Vural said. She said that at the "Changing the Odds" conference the organization hosted last year, representatives from the Obama Administration began looking at how different federal agencies duplicate services to the poor and are not communicating with one another.

Vural said that communication and collaboration is very important.

"Stopping the cycle of poverty comes from many different perspectives, " she explained.