By Anna Kamen
US Department of Education
Too many of our children grow up in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty where zip codes determine destinies. To address this inequality, President Obama has laid out a comprehensive strategy to create ladders of opportunity to ensure that all children can achieve social mobility. Education plays a critical role in this strategy, particularly in the President’s Promise Zone initiative.
On June 19, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan traveled to San Antonio, one of the first of five Promise Zones, to participate in a town hall discussion on how the initiative has impacted the community. The discussion took place at Tynan Early Childhood Education Center, where Principal Gregorio Velazquez kicked off the event by introducing an unexpected guest to give the opening remarks and welcome Secretary Duncan. The speaker was Mauricio, a four-year-old student at Tynan who would prove to be the star of the event.
Principal Velazquez describes Mauricio as a remarkably intelligent student. Throughout the school year when he visited Mauricio’s classroom, he was struck by Mauricio’s inquisitiveness and politeness. He stood out among his peers, always asking thoughtful questions and exhibiting extraordinary manners.
The crowd of parents and school administrators was gleaming with pride as young Mauricio, with the help of a step stool, marched up to the podium and confidently began to speak. With incredible poise, Mauricio thanked Secretary Duncan, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, and the parents and community members in the crowd for visiting Tynan.
“We will continue to need your support as we move up to the next level of our education,” he read. “We appreciate all you do to help us with our journey on becoming responsible students and citizens.”
As Mauricio finished, the audience erupted with cheering and applause. Secretary Duncan was beaming, clearly moved by Mauricio’s stellar performance. It was not only the eloquence of Mauricio that touched the audience, but also what his performance symbolized. Mauricio was the epitome of the great success of Tynan and the progress of its surrounding community as one of the Administration’s first designated Zones. He demonstrated that, especially for early learners, a good education goes a long way and has a profound impact on future success.
To date, the Department has awarded more than $200 million in Promise Neighborhood grants. The Promise Zone Initiative has worked to foster partnerships between communities and businesses to create jobs; increase economic security; expand educational opportunities; increase access to quality, affordable housing; and improve public safety. The first five zones are in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Promise Neighborhoods will play an important role in several of the zones.
Anna Kamen is a rising senior at Princeton University. She is interning with the Press Office at the U.S. Department of Education.