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January 3, 2012 > Union City Kids' Zone: ensuring success for vulnerable students

Union City Kids' Zone: ensuring success for vulnerable students

By Jessica Noel Waymire

Horace Mann, a 19th century American education reformer said, "Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, - the balance-wheel of the social machinery." Americans have long known that an educated population is a key to the future success of our country. Education reduces crime and poverty and increases citizens' ability to contribute to their communities. It is in this vein that Superintendent Kari McVeigh has introduced the Union City Kids' Zone initiative in the New Haven Unified School District (NHUSD).

Kari McVeigh joined the NHUSD in 2008 as the Superintendent of Schools. Shortly after her arrival at New Haven, McVeigh implemented the Equity Task Force to address educational gaps in underperforming student groups. Her desire was to make education more equitable by raising the educational performance of all groups, addressing cultural diversity in the school environment, and creating more holistic learning goals for graduating students joining the workforce. With this focus, as well as inspiration from programs such as Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Neighborhoods, McVeigh began to build a community-wide plan to address the needs of vulnerable students in the district.

The purpose of the Union City Kids' Zone project is to create a cradle-to-career "safety net woven so tightly that no child can slip through," says McVeigh. This program would provide vital services to at-risk families to ensure the children's academic success long term. Individuals and organizations working in cooperation with the project would provide these services. The idea is to have a "pipeline of support" within the community to give these kids whatever they need to stay in school and eventually transition to college.

The Kids' Zone project is still in the formative stage, waiting for funding from the state and federal level in the form of grants. Once funding is in place, implementation will follow. The Union City neighborhood between Decoto Road, Alvarado Niles, Sherman Drive, and Mission Boulevard is the initial target for the Kids' Zone project. Families in this area have fewer community resources available, greater levels of poverty, and a low rate of high school graduation (less than 60 percent).

The inspiration for this initiative comes from the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), a New York program that began in the 1990s with a single city block. HCZ has grown to provide much needed services to over 8,000 children in Harlem today. The Children's Zone works to break the cycle of generational poverty by offering parenting classes to expectant mothers, nutritional counseling, crisis intervention, financial services, charter schools, and career counseling. President Obama, impressed with the success of HCZ, created the federal Promise Neighborhoods program in 2010. Twenty organizations or institutions will be granted funding for implementation or planning each year. This year, Cal State East Bay received an implementation grant to begin a Hayward Promise Neighborhood.

Poverty is a shackle on humanity, and its grips are reaching farther today with the state of the economy and the continued budget cuts in education. Programs like the Harlem Children's Zone, Promise Neighborhoods, and Union City Kids' Zone bring the community together to lift up its most vulnerable members. Reducing poverty and increasing educational success are crucial to our nation's future. Communities should work together to do whatever it takes to procure the best future for their children. These programs are just the beginning.

To learn more about the Union City Kids' Zone, please contact Kari McVeigh at

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