Northside Achievement Zone enrolls 500th family

Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, spoke in Minneapolis Oct. 30, 2013 (MPR Photo/Matt Sepic)

A program that aims to close the academic achievement gap in Minneapolis and put economically disadvantaged children on a path to college is celebrating a milestone today.

The Northside Achievement Zone — which provides a variety of social and educational services in a 13- by 18-block area of north Minneapolis, has enrolled its 500th family.

Erica McMillan, 30, has five children including two foster kids. She said they've been part of the program since it started in 2010.

"I got my 7-year-old talking about what college he wants to go to. My 13-year-old foster son, before he came to me he didn't even know he could go to college," McMillan said.

Modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, the Minneapolis effort works with community organizations to provide families with childcare assistance, parenting classes, transportation and other services.

Geoffrey Canada, who runs the Harlem Children's Zone, spoke in Minneapolis Wednesday.  He said the Northside Achievement Zone is showing positive results.

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"We know it could always be better, and I'm pushing them to get better. But every indication is that they are moving the young people in this community in the right direction," Canada said.

The Northside Achievement Zone is building on its success, especially with summer academic programs, Chief Operating Officer Michelle Martin said.

Martin said 64 percent of the children who completed the program this year improved at least a half grade level in reading.

"Our next milestone is to see how many of those 170 scholars, who seem to be doing better academically through their summer [well] when they take their assessments this fall," she said.

Northside Achievement Zone leaders hope to enroll 1,000 families, or about half of those living within its boundaries.

Editor's note: 64 percent of children who completed the program improved their reading level. A previous version incorrectly identified the number as 70 percent.