As the documentary "Waiting for Superman" continues to spark debate about the nation's broken education system, an early head start program in Upper Manhattan is looking to make a difference by reversing the trend. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
At the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem, they're getting future students right after they leave the womb. The early head start program is for newborns and toddlers. Experts say they're determined to nurture and mold children in high-risk neighborhoods before it's too late.
"It is so important to catch children at a very early age where you provide them with a very enriched environment," said Northside Center for Child Development Executive Director Thelma Dye.
The staff at Northside started working to reverse the education crisis many years before the acclaimed documentary "Waiting for Superman" hit theaters last month.
The film exposes how public school students fall through the cracks in neighborhoods like Harlem and focuses on the broken education system.
But workers at Northside have a different focus. Staffers address the emotional, developmental and educational needs of children and families. It's a formula they say is yielding positive results for the five-year-old early head start program.
"One of the other special components of early head start is the support we provide to the families. We really want the families to be involved in the children's education," said Northside Center for Child Development Early Head Start Director Sonia Gonzalez.
Northside was founded more than 60 years ago by renowned psychologists Dr. Kenneth Clark and Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark -- who are best known for their "doll" experiments which exposed children's preferences about race.
Parents of children who attend the center say they believe their children are on a fast track to success.
"He didn't know how to socialize with other kids. Now he plays with other kids, he knows the numbers, the colors," said parent Anna Lopez.
"They're not catching up, they're ready to soar," Dye said.
Officials at Northside say they pride themselves on being a "change agent" in the field of education. They also believe their small steps will make a huge difference in the long run.