By Mark Rose
Residents of the Parkside/Kenilworth neighborhood in Ward 7 have been buoyed by the announcement of a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education meant to improve life for local parents and children.
But no one is happier than Ayris Scales, executive director of DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, the community nonprofit that wrote the grant application and is in charge of putting the money to work.
“I’m thrilled and honored,” said Scales. “It’s a milestone.”
Now comes the task of getting the neighborhood fully engaged in the projects she has in mind. DC PNI has been working in the community for several years helping provide educational assistance and summer programs to keep children involved in positive activities. The new grant will allow for an expansion of DC PNI’s programs and services.
“I want the community to be as excited and buy into it as much as I and the team do,” said Scales. “Without their support, we’re nothing.”
The grant money will be steered through five schools in the community: Neval Thomas Elementary, Kenilworth Elementary, the Educare School, and Chavez-Parkside Middle and High School. And community members thronged the auditorium of Neval Thomas for a January 23 for a community town hall meeting to weigh in on the project.
Frances Johnson, a local parent, said she hoped that expanded tutoring, literacy and summer programs would raise her daughter’s test scores.
“My thing is the child should not be behind, period,” she said.
Alan Davis said that enrichment activities would help his grandchildren, Elijah Davis, 12, and Ezekiel Davis, 4.
The increased program offerings “give the kids something to do,” he said. “ I wish they had had something like this when I was growing up.”
Because about 90 percent of households in Parkside/Kenilworth are headed by single mothers raising their children alone, PNI’s project specifically targets the educational and social needs of children and single mothers, Scales said. While their young children are taught and cared for, parents will be offered life skills and workforce training and will be coached in ways they can help their children at home and in school.
“It’s what the community said they needed,” Scales said. “It all came back to what was happening outside the school as much as what’s happening inside the schools.”
A second community town hall meeting is scheduled for February 27 at Kenilworth Elementary.