Across the U.S., several Promise Neighborhoods have been established under the legislative authority of the Fund for the Improvement of Education Program. Since its inception through the Harlem Children’s Zone, the program has become a widely heralded public-private partnership that provides education and community services to low-income parents and children.
In 2010, the Delta Health Alliance (DHA) received a planning grant from the U.S. Department of Education to begin building the infrastructure needed for the Indianola Promise Neighborhood (Community). Indianola was poised for this work to mirror many aspects of the Harlem Children’s Zone in regard to need and demographics. The implementation grant received in 2012 allowed DHA to create a continuum of services for children and families in Indianola to support their success.
Indianola is a small city located in rural Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta. Historically, agricultural and manufacturing industries were the employers of most residents; many of these jobs have either moved out of the country or simply no longer exist because of changes in agriculture brought on by technological advances. As a result, many economic, education and social disparities exist in Indianola.
Almost 80 percent of city residents are African-American, with over one-third living below the federal poverty level. The annual median household income is $27,941. Indianola Promise Community (IPC) has 3,000-plus children under 18 years of age in its footprint. IPC targets the four public schools in Indianola with approximately 2,200 students.
DHA, also located in the rural Mississippi Delta, is the umbrella organization for IPC. DHA is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that seeks to change health care and education in the region by improving access to health services, promoting healthier lifestyles and expanding educational opportunities. DHA has been a leader in supporting and operating community-based clinics that serve as a medical home for patients; implementing new technologies such as electronic health records, health information exchange networks, and telehealth diagnosis and treatment centers; managing innovative education programs in community settings; and creating robust home visitation programs that address neonatal and early-childhood education challenges.
DHA serves as the central authority for IPC, contributing operational stability and fiscal control. The success of this work is strongly dependent on DHA having a comprehensive view of the work of all organizations.
IPC includes over 30 programs that provide children with the opportunity to succeed in school, graduate and attend college. It is a partnership between schools, community and faith-based organizations, clinics, hospitals, early-learning providers and after-school partners. The overarching goal of IPC is to build a pipeline of care to make sure that young children are healthy and kindergarten-ready, and that children who need extra support get it quickly. When this goal is achieved, young people are prepared to graduate from high school, thrive in college and have a career with good pay.
IPC has helped to build a culture around collecting and using data in Indianola with the community, its partners and the school system. IPC has modeled how to use data, including analyzing and assessing the data, to make informed decisions about progress toward goals. IPC has also emphasized the responsibility to report data results back to the community, allowing community members to take ownership of the project. This evidence- and results-based infrastructure is now in place and should be available to the community for many years to come, with or without IPC.
In order to solicit ideas and opinions from the community, IPC staff members conduct annual door-to-door neighborhood surveys of close to 350 Indianola residents. Moreover, in partnership with the school district, IPC conducts similar surveys of all middle and high school students. The findings from these surveys are used to improve programs and to share with community, youth and parent groups as a way of inviting their engagement with IPC, in discussing issues that confront families and children in the community, and to jointly craft solutions to these issues.
Prior to the Promise Neighborhood work, there was an absence of a cohesive unit that aligned key education strategies in Indianola. Organizations and individuals worked in silos while providing services. IPC has been instrumental in coordinating services and aligning the activities and goals of child care centers, the pre-K program and Head Start. As a result, across all the key constituencies in Indianola and Sunflower County, partners coordinate their curriculum and assessment. The alignment activities that now take place are systematic and structural; child care centers, the pre-K program and Head Start all use the same evidence-based curriculum and assessment, and memoranda of agreement are now in place between these partners to allow for data sharing and for interprogram referrals.
IPC has been very successful:
After three years of doing this work in Indianola, DHA has learned several things about initiating a major grant like this in a low-resource school system:
Even though DHA has learned a lot and has made great progress, there are still plenty of challenges, including:
Despite the challenges, Mayor Steve Rosenthal said, “Poverty in the Delta is generational, but I see the Indianola Promise Community as being our one shot at shifting a change from generational poverty. It has helped the community come together to uplift themselves. The Indianola Promise Community has been our quarterback to bring services together; gaps are now being filled so that people can move forward.” As for the future of the IPC, he said, “It’s the one program that increases our odds at being a successful community.”