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New York City
July 2001

German Delegation at Bank Street’s Liberty Partnership Program
by Joan Baum, Ph.D.

“Hugs”? The word was unfamiliar to The Hon. Angela Merkel, Chairman of the Christian Democratic Union Party and Member of the German Parliament. But she and colleagues, members of a German delegation visiting Bank Street College of Education, could clearly sense from what they were hearing about the Community of Promise/Liberty Partnership Program (LPP) resident at Bank Street that “hugs” were something good and, alas, for many New York State school children, something too rare in their lives—though not at Bank Street.

Looking for a “special project” to round out their visit to the United States, the delegation chose the LPP because it had been recommended by the State Education Department and by Secretary of State Colin Powell, with whom they had met earlier in the week and who has been associated with the parent organization, Promise America.

Six young Liberty Scholars gathered in the auditorium at Bank Street and talked about a program that had given them opportunity—and those hugs. Listening to them besides Chairman Merkel were Deputy Chairman Volker Rühe and several other prominent German officials. A small group of German reporters was on hand videotaping the exchange.

The youngsters, many of whom have been in the program for a few years, spoke persuasively of how counseling and academic support by Bank Street staff turned their lives around. These are boys and girls from some of the poorest, most drug-infested, crime-ridden areas in the city, sometimes from broken homes and abusive or parentless families, as Assemblyman Ed Sullivan, the “architect” of the Program, pointed out.

Approximately 14,000, or one percent, of fifth to twelfth graders participate in the LLP state-wide, but Sullivan’s goal is to reach a target population of four percent out of a total population of 1.4 million. At bottom, he said, there is no great difference between urban and rural youngsters. The problems of isolation and lack of resources are similar, and young people’s feelings are pretty much the same. He got money for LPP from the state eleven years ago, and then he campaigned vigorously for the private foundation augmentation grants that have followed. The delegation fastened on the funding information and was particularly interested in the corporate and community alliances LPP has forged. Obviously, with funding continuing, the program has been a success.

“Without LPP, many of these youngsters would have dropped out of school,” Sullivan noted. Instead, LPP alumni are now in graduate and professional schools, in the arts and armed services. One young LLP Scholar proudly told the delegation that she would soon be off to Wesleyan University. Jerrel Burney spoke of how the program helped him cope with problems at home and taught him how to manage his time. Elizam Mangual is doing better in school.

What particularly impressed the German delegation was a sense of community and common purpose among the youngsters, though each student hailed from a different school. LPP is not an alternative school, LPP Director Maureen Hornung explained, but an after-school program that runs from 3 to about 6 or 7 p.m. It also offers activities on weekends, such as the Columbia University Creative Writing Program, and has a summer travel component: a five-week YMCA Break Away Camp in Mexico where LPP students can study Spanish, Mexican culture and go on field trips. At present, 54 LPP boys and girls are enrolled at Bank Street, where they get chocolate, tutoring and…hugs. “And no one does their homework for them,” Sullivan was quick to add, and no one watches TV. “They care here,” one youngster volunteers, “not like at my school where some teachers don’t help us and aren’t very good.”

The delegation was attentive. In West Germany, youngsters go to school only until 1 p.m. and get no lunch. In the East there is still culture-bound mistrust of the state, fear of indoctrination and a traditional reliance on the family. But as Toni Gifford, Special Assistant to the President of Bank Street, pointed out, LPP calls for all support to be integrated into a model that is independent of politics. For united Germany, there were certainly important lessons here to be taken away. #


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