Community Groups Launch Skills, Education Programs in NE DC

DCPNI Focuses on Kenilworth-Parkside Neighborhood

D.C.’s Kenilworth Elementary School, which closed at the end of the 2013 school year, is now home to the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI). The program, which will focus on the Kenilworth-Parkside community in Ward 7, is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. It aims to advance education equity through non-profits and faith-based sponsors.

DCPNI was started in 2008 by Irasema Salcido, founder of the District’s Cesar Chávez Public Charter schools. Noticing discrepancies among the educational successes of children entering the schools, Salcido created a community steering committee to determine the best way to close the achievement gaps. DCPNI is the result.

DCPNI is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which supports families in poverty through parenting workshops and health and education programs. DCPNI plans to do the same for families in Kenilworth-Parkside.

Ayris T. Scales, DCPNI’s executive director, says that Salcido gauged the need for DCPNI in Kenilworth-Parkside after a group of community leaders assessed what the community lacked.

“She had a vision for the community, met with leaders around the community. Not too long after that, President Obama announced his initiative, the Promise Neighborhoods, it was just perfect timing,” Scales said.

 Statistics from the 2010 Census and the 2009 American Community Survey show that 50 percent of the 5,725 residents of the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood live in poverty with the number of children living in poverty at 61 percent. One out of every four births are to a teen mother, and of the three schools in the community, less than half of the students are proficient in math and reading.  These numbers helped to show that Kenilworth-Parkside could benefit from a program like DCPNI.

The program is a collaboration among schools, community leaders and non-profit organizations. It serves residents from birth to age 24 with the help of 30 partner organizations that focus on issues ranging from early learning to college and career readiness. Scales explained that DCPNI’s target is a “continuum” because no one is left out or forgotten.

“We identify what the needs and challenges are and we develop strategies to deal with them. We identify partners and find people who can go in and serve these students” she said.

The Promise Neighborhood Initiative also pushes for strong familial and community support. The Department of Education works with the 57 Promise Neighborhoods nationwide by providing technical assistance, advice and grants.  

The initiative is preparing to launch two programs in October. The first, Out of School Time, will serve as a comprehensive, extended learning program to reinforce what children have learned inside the classroom through mentoring, tutoring, digital media and other avenues. The program launches Oct. 15. In addition, DCPNI will introduce a parent Academy on Oct. 21 to provide workforce development, financial literacy workshops, life skills and overall support for parents and families in Kenilworth-Parkside.

DCPNI was awarded a $500,000 planning grant in 2010 to determine how best to equip the Kenilworth-Parkside community with programs to successfully implement the promise neighborhood goals. In 2012, they were awarded a five-year, $25 million grant from the Department of Education to implement programs and initiatives. Crystal Prater, DCPNI’s director of communications, says that the funding will be spent over the length of the grant at a rate of about $5 million annually.  Prater said  that while costs may change based on indicated need within the community, that about 80 percent of the grant goes toward programming, about 11 percent toward community engagement and about 8 percent toward general administration.

Eventually, Prater says that the initiative will measure its success by the number of participant students who earn college degrees, the amount of reported crime in the neighborhood and the number of parents who read to their children. She is confident that DCPNI’s programs, once implemented, will have impact. And she is not alone.

Dooshima Mngerem, a Howard University psychology major who serves on the executive board of Howard’s chapter of America’s Promise Alliance, whose national chapter is a DCPNI partner, thinks that DCPNI will “spur the creation of safe and healthy communities, especially for low-income families.”