How Can We Eradicate Generational Poverty?

Paul Tough
Written by Molly Sammon

Generational poverty is inherited. Generational Poverty is complex. Promise is not. Promise is granted.

Village of Promise provides assistance to families in need a pipeline of services and ultimately a pathway to success, from birth through college. It houses three programs, Infant University for mothers and babies, the Freedom School for students to grow over the summer and outside of school hours, as well as College Success, a mentorship program that maintains that Village of Promise students have access to a match college and the support it takes to graduate. One teacher, one parent or one after school program working in isolation can’t loosen the tight grip of generational poverty. It changes with a whole village.

The word promise references two things – the promise students will show after completion of the programs, and the promise from the organization to create real, visible change for all residents of Huntsville.

On September 24th, 2015 – Paul Tough, author and journalist who wrote How Children Succeed, addressed a crowd of over 500 people about what promise can look like and how to create students who are college and career ready, not only in conventional metrics of standardized testing but it the character assets that drive success. He highlights the research of psychologists who claim that curiosity, grit, zest, social-intelligence, gratitude, optimism, self-control are incredibly important – if not more so – in preparing students who persist through post-graduation challenges.  Tough told the crowd, “I haven’t seen any system more effective than this type of comprehensive neighborhood based program. It doesn’t make any sense to take on one or two of their problems.   That’s why I’m so excited to see what Village of Promise is doing with this cradle to college model. Working with college students, high school students, elementary school students and infants makes so much sense. “

It’s a tumultuous, but exciting time in education policy right now. With the National Governor’s Association sponsored Common Core, many states including Alabama have adopted a new set of standards designed to encourage these non-cognitive skills that Tough mentioned as well as prepare students at all levels to be better problem-solvers and future movers and shakers. But the shift in instruction toward common core-based instruction will take an incredible amount of time, a whole generation of learning before the plan is actualized. Teachers today are still focused on state-sponsored curriculum that focuses too much on benchmark skills, such as mastering the Pythagorean theorem or identifying an adverb, rather than the aforementioned soft skills that Tough preaches.

Village of Promise is in a unique and important position to provide these skills to young Huntsville students from their neighborhood, which needs help in these areas most. They aren’t bound by state standards.

So what can Village of Promise do to develop and stimulate growth of these soft skills that students in need and lack compared to their more privileged peers? There was evidence of each during the lecture series event, and the programs’ structure fosters them.


In the Freedom SchoolTM program, students can select their reading outside of the curriculum, learning about a topic of their interest to grow their vocabulary, increase fluency and comprehension by building on prior knowledge.


Freedom SchoolTM students learn and practice conflict resolution as well as develop positive peer relationships


College Success mandates that students are prepared for the independence that the structure of college brings to the student, and mentors provide an opportunity to continue through school.


In Infant University, ‘a cohort of mothers and their young children meet to learn and discuss many topics around raising an interested and enthusiastic child for success. They bring energy and enthusiasm for the long commitment ahead, priming their child for graduation.


Kenya Epps detailed the progress of the organization from the perspective of a parent-turned employee, expressing thanks to a group that helped her three boys have new opportunities.


Terrell Banks, a participant in the College Success program, provided the invocation at the event said that he found a career that “even I might like.”


In the holistic approach, completing the program takes 22 years – infancy through college. Participation over that many years

If it’s true that it takes a village, then Village of Promise can bring these important character traits to young people in their neighborhood.


About the contributor
Molly Sammon is an alumni corps member of Teach for America and spent three years teaching in Chicago Public schools.

To learn more about author Paul Tough click  How Children Succeed

How gritty are you?  Just for fun, we have included an online quiz.

Freedom School, It’s more than just a summer program

IMG_6643 copyEach morning the Montview Elementary Gymnasium is filled with an energy that is palpable. Led by college intern students in the daily Harambee, scholars are singing and chanting about rocking the Freedom School. Harambee is Swahili for “Let’s Pull Together” which is exactly what the 110 Village of Promise (VoP) scholars did this summer.

I visited Freedom School several times this summer and with each visit I became more impressed with the children and the program. The six-week curriculum focuses on preventing summer learning loss, enrichment and so much more.   Gloria Batts, Executive Director of Village of Promise-CDF Freedom School, explains, “Freedom School was a natural progression for VoP. Our focus at VoP exposes children to holistic learning.   Encompassed is the whole of the Freedom School model. Students deal with aspects in their culture, conflict resolution, focus on social action, and participate in the Social Action Day movement that takes place across the country.” Freedom School isn’t a program where kids come just to be occupied during summer vacation. Freedom School is designed to engage and encourage students from pre-k through eighth grade. The Freedom School program is an opportunity for a child to appreciate and develop a love of reading, to attend Bible class, learn about Robotics and dream of being an engineer. Scholars get to swim with their friends and also learn the importance of conflict resolution. Community engagement is emphasized and all students participate in the Social Action Day focusing on ending childhood poverty. Scholars learn that they are powerful and have the ability to make a difference.

Freedom School has a long history. Two Civil Right’s organizations started the Freedom School Project in 1964 in Alabama. The Children’s Defense Fund used the idea to start the Freedom School program in 1995. There are now Freedom Schools across the nation and Village of Promise is one of the largest groups to date.

Kenya Epps, Site Coordinator, was first introduced to Freedom School as a parent. In the beginning, her first thought was just a summer program but quickly realized the impact the program had on her son Kendall. Kenya said that Kendall would wake up singing and chanting and his energy was contagious. Her youngest child, Cayden, was ready to go to Freedom School too, he wanted to be apart of the fun. Cayden and Kenya received a pleasant surprise this year, Village of Promise Infant University Program decided to pilot the Pre-K Freedom School. Cayden got his chance to join in the fun and learning with Kendall. Kendall spent time with a reading specialist throughout the Freedom School program and in just six weeks he advanced from a 1.9 reading level to a 3.2. Kenya states, “Typically this is a down time and children slide backwards during the summertime. Kendall advanced unlike most of his peers that spent the summertime at a camp that wasn’t focused on reading.”

Kenya shared that she felt fortunate to be on the inner workings of the program; it is here that she realized the importance of the Freedom School program. Kenya states, “Kids need the enrichment to help them excel at reading and not lapse during the summertime. This program enables the children to enter a more relaxed environment beyond academics encouraging relationships and community development.”

For more information about CDF Freedom School click here.
To view more images from Village of Promise – CDF Freedom School 2015 click here.


College Success, The Pipeline Continues

Terrell Banks, Village of Promise
Terrell Banks, Village of Promise

The goal of the College Success Program (CSP) is to support undergraduate students in the Village of Promise target neighborhood who are attending college. Advice, assistance, and support are provided to ensure scholars’ successful completion of college and entry to a career. The program began fall 2013 with a small pilot group of eight Butler High School graduates.  Terrell Banks, a second year college student attending J.F. Drake Technical College, is a current participant of CSP. Each scholar is assigned a well-qualified professional mentor and they also receive academic counseling and advising assistance to stay on track with achieving their educational goals and to ultimately graduate and begin their chosen career. Elton Akins,  Terrell’s mentor, reports that Terrell continues to excel in and out of the classroom. After successfully completing his first full year, Terrell is continuing to work toward his Associates degree in Computer Information Systems by taking a full course load over the summer.   Akins said that Terrell is expanding his knowledge in software programming and networking by taking C++, Cyber Terrorism, Linux and Cisco 4 classes.  In addition to taking a full load of classes, Terrell is starting a part-time internship with Linc Research, Inc. As an intern with Linc Research, Inc., he will be supporting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) program. After completing his degree at Drake State, Terrell plans to pursue his bachelor’s degree at either Alabama A&M University (AAMU) or University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH).


Terrell is active outside of the classroom as well. During his sophomore year Terrell was crowned King of Drake State. His responsibilities included coordinating and hosting social events, speaking with prospective college students about Drake State and making sure that the Drake State Pageant was a huge success for the upcoming King of Drake State. Terrell and a fellow classmate also worked with the Grissom High School students that attended and won the US Cyber Patriot VII National Finals.   Terrell said that having a mentor helps him to stay on the college tract. “Mr. Akins helps me to keep my focus and continually reminds me to keep a short term and a long term plan. My short term plan is my Bachelor’s Degree, my long term plan is to be successfully employed,” reports Terrell.


A report from Mr. Akins has put a smile on many faces in the Village of Promise community. Elton said, “Terrell’s continued progress is a great example of the CSP working to assist high school and college students succeed in college and prepare them for a successful career.”   Elton said the topic he Terrell talk about most is probably “preparation”.   Their conversations seem to always come back to making sure that he prepares for the future and opportunities not yet seen. Elton encourages Terrell to take advantage of his educational opportunities and seeking out opportunities to get experience in his chosen field so that he can become a subject matter expert. Elton said he has used a number of quotes with Terrell in their conversations and one that currently comes to mind is, “It takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to get spectacular results.”

Infant University, The Beginning of Our Pipeline

Wouldn’t it be nice if babies came with instruction manuals and a GPS for human development? Not just for figuring out feeding, diapering and sleep schedules, but to show us how to navigate the parenting road from infancy to adulthood — to warn us of roadblocks ahead, and to help us keep moving forward as smoothly as possible when faced with a detour.

Not surprisingly, the early part of the journey — early childhood — is a critical period for human development. What happens in the early years provides the foundation for what comes later. Doing what we can to ensure a healthy and happy childhood for our children paves the way for them to become happy, healthy, productive adults.

Infant University, or IU for short, represents the very beginning of Village of Promise’s pipeline of services. Because parents are a child’s first teacher, IU provides parents with the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to support their children’s development so that their foundation is good and strong by the time they enter kindergarten. IU addresses topics such as brain development, child development, positive discipline, nutrition, how to handle medical emergencies, how to cope with stress, and the importance of establishing a close, loving parent-child bond.

Another benefit of IU is building relationships – not only between Village of Promise and the families, but also between the families themselves. Parenting is such a complex journey, full of joys and challenges; the journey is much more enjoyable when there is a community with whom we can share the ride.