When East Harlem native Janiqua Codrington was growing up in the Abraham Lincoln Houses on Madison Avenue and 135th Street, she didn't fully appreciate the intensive curriculum she was studying at Frederick Douglass Academy, a high-performing secondary school on 148th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
"I didn't always like the rigor of the school, but as I got older, I saw they were trying to instill something in us," she said.
Codrington is now the head of the Dear Sisters Girls Group, a youth program that works to empower disadvantaged female high school students in Harlem that is slated to receive funding from Teachers College. The money will allow DSGG to run programming for girls in 10th and 11th grades at Frederick Douglass Academy II, a TC partner school on 114th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
"I want to instill that hope in a ton of young girls," Codrington said.
Though a final contract won't be signed until next week, TC will use a portion of a $3.5 million New York State grant it received in 2013 to provide additional funding for DSGG. DSGG currently receives funding from and is a part of the nonprofit education group Young Harlem, Inc.
"We were really excited about it. Our criteria matched with what they were looking for, and the rest is history," Codrington said.
Angela Fulcher, an expanded learning opportunities associate at TC's Office of School and Community Partnerships, said that the Dear Sisters Girls Group embodies the "comprehensive education model" developed by Columbia Law School professor and education researcher Michael Rebell.
The arrangement came after the principal of Frederick Douglass Academy II, where Young Harlem, Inc. is headquartered, recommended that TC give part of the grant to DSGG.
DSGG, which attempts to address the root causes of students' behavioral problems, grew out of existing programs run by Young Harlem, Inc., which was founded in 2008 by another Harlem native, Jonnel Green. Green said he first thought of his educational model, which focuses on empowerment rather than discipline, while doing professional development for youth in a Queens family court.
Green said that many schools solve behavioral problems by pushing students into special education classes.
"Some people focus on the effects, but they don't focus on the core," he said. "They're suffering the mindset that they can't be nothing. ... We're kind of spinning on it in a different way."
Young Harlem, Inc.'s programs bring together students and facilitators for regular meetings, encouraging them to form long-lasting friendships. DSGG works in a similar way, except all of the students and facilitators are female.
Codrington said that all facilitators come from backgrounds similar to the participants'—an effort to show them "living examples of people who have absolutely beat the odds."
The program hopes to add etiquette classes and field trips that promote cultural enrichment. In a cohort's later stages, Codrington wants to ask students to come up with their own solutions to problems they perceive in their community.
"If we're serious about overcoming the achievement gap, we've got to provide not only a quality education," Rebell said. "All the research shows that these kids are not going to be in a position to be ready for high academic achievement if they have these other problems in the way."
"Students in poverty need some additional supports in order to attain education like their affluent peers," Fulcher said, adding that programs that aid social and emotional development outside of the school day are especially needed.
Fulcher said that in recent years, Frederick Douglass Academy II in particular has drastically reduced school violence, thanks to new leadership and youth empowerment programs like DSGG.
Meanwhile, Green said that expanding DSGG is just another step in expanding Young Harlem, Inc.'s scope.
"This is an important time in the life cycle of Harlem," he said.
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