Harlem Children's Zone

Geofrey Canada.
United States
A comprehensive strategy of education, social services and community- building programmes that help children access and complete college, enter the labour world and build skills for successful futures, breaking generational poverty
What solution does the innovation propose?

The community is engaged in a multi-pronged holistic strategy to combat poverty effectively and build a better neighbourhood future. A sequential pipeline of educational, recreational, and social programmes that serve children at all critical stages of their childhood and adolescence are provided, starting at birth and continuing through college graduation. Educational and enrichment activities are complemented by a network of diverse wraparound services, including parent and family support systems, health and nutrition programming, and community centres that engage neighbourhood residents of all ages


Jefferson Award for Public Service (2007). Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education (2004). Children’s Champion Award, Child Magazine (2004). Brennan Legacy Award, New York University (2002). First Heinz Award (1994). Common Good Award, Bowdoin College (1993). Heroes of the Year Award, Robin Hood Foundation (1992).

Impact evidence

  • Throughout 2015-2016, more than 13.000 children and 12,000 adults participated in their diverse programmes.
  • In 2016, 96% of participating students were admitted into college.
  • In 2016, 90% of participating high-school students and 73% of mid-school students (aged 11-14) had equal or superior assistance rate than the average student in New York.
  • Since inception, 99% of pre-kindergarteners were assessed as school ready.
  • A lottery-based randomized trial suggests that the effects of attending an HCZ® middle school are enough to close the black-white achievement gap in mathematics.
  • President Obama instituted a Promise Neighborhoods Initiative intended to replicate the model in 20 cities across the United States.
How does it work?

Programmes and services include:

  • The Baby College, an intensive child development and parenting course for new and expecting parents and caregivers of children age 0-3.
  • Harlem Gems, a pre-kindergarten programme that prepares young children to enter kindergarten school-ready.
  • Two charter schools, called Promise Academies, and an extensive network of in- and after-school programmes that provide rigorous educational, college-preparatory, and youth development services to school-aged children and youth.
  • The College Success Office, which guides college students along their paths toward graduation and the workforce by providing academic and financial advisement, social-emotional support, and career development opportunities.
  • Healthy Harlem, an organisation-wide initiative that provides children with one hour of exercise a day and 45 minutes of nutrition education a week.
  • Preventive Services, which help families in crisis become more stable and avoid potential foster care placement, by providing services such as counselling, referrals to health care providers, and assistance with housing, clothing, and other urgent needs.

The community component is based on a constant effort of needs assessment. Communication with all neighbors is fluid, be it through specific activities a door-to-door information service. To address barriers beyond education, advice is offered on for example, legal, tax, employment or housing related issues.

Geographical scope

Where was initially developed
Harlem, New York, United States.
Where has been implemented so far
New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Cleveland (United States). The model has inspired public policies and community programmes at both the national and international levels, such as the Promise Neighbourhood Programme launched by Obama Administration.
Last updated: 
September 2019