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Black Parents Tackle Student Gap

Aisha Tomlinson is a receptionist living in Harlem, but she parents her two young daughters like a professional in the suburbs.

The single mother dutifully attends PTA meetings, knows the names of her children's teachers, and sends her daughters to after-school tutoring, test preparation sessions, and karate lessons. On weekends, the family sometimes visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art or a public library in Harlem.
Tomlinson acknowledges that she was not always so involved, though, and she regrets leaving the education of her 18-year-old son entirely in the hands of the public schools he attended. She thought only prosperous parents had the time and ability to navigate a school system -- until last school year, when Harlem educators taught her how to do the same.

Unorthodox measures to teach the tenacious habits of the affluent to African-American mothers and fathers in Harlem have been taken by the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Columbia University's Teachers College, directed by Dr. Edmund Gordon, as well as by Harlem Children's Zone, a large social service organization, and The College Board, sponsor of the SAT. Gordon's institute hired a firm to create a public awareness campaign to promote the idea that school alone does not guarantee academic success. Researchers are spreading the message in churches and from door to door, and it will be preached this summer at parent conferences. Faculty members at Promise Academy, which opened in September, give away compact discs and hold barbecue suppers to entice parents to attend PTA meetings. Harlem Children's Zone begins to push parental involvement early on.

This article, written by Tatsha Robertson, appeared in the March 28th, 2005 publication of The Boston Globe.

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