Grantor: The Hyde and Watson Foundation, Chatham, New York
Grantee: Operation Exodus Inner City
A New York City diamond merchant is approached by the distraught mother of a child in his Sunday school class. The boy, not yet out of sixth grade, is already being pressured to join the local gangs, and his mother wants help getting her son out of their Washington Heights neighborhood. The merchant, reluctant at first, agrees and finds a place for the boy at a Christian boarding school in Mississippi. In the process, he becomes one of the pioneers of the privately funded school choice movement, and now has more than 100 children on his waiting list.
But where many of the modern school choice programs have the benefit of strong corporate or foundation support, Luis Iza’s program, Operation Exodus Inner City, Inc., is run out of a corner of his Manhattan business office on a budget of less than $100,000 per year. That budget, moreover, is raised almost entirely from local churches and parents of the program’s students, who are so committed to getting their kids out of the local schools that they part with a sizable portion of their meager incomes. This year they are getting some help from a $5,000 grant from the New Jersey-based Hyde and Watson Foundation, which will enable the program to establish a computer lab.
Since its inception in 1988, Operation Exodus has assisted over 130 kids, most of them from Dominican families, by placing them outside their neighborhoods of Washington Heights and the South Bronx in over thirty different schools both around New York City and the nation. While the other students in their neighborhoods see only 30 percent of their peers graduate from high school in four years, students in the Exodus program do so at the astonishing rate of 98 percent, according to Iza. In fact, only two students have ever dropped out of school after enrolling in the program. All of the program’s high school graduates have entered college, where 70 percent have graduated or are still enrolled.
Iza attributes the program’s success to having consistent adult involvement in the kids’ lives “as early as possible and the earlier the better.” To that end, all prospective students and their parents must commit to a year’s probationary period, the goal of which is to gauge their commitment-especially critical if the student is going to enroll in a boarding school far away from family and friends. During this time, the students remain in their current schools but attend thrice-weekly tutoring sessions in reading and math, and the parents participate in workshops, discussing such topics as child development and how to manage the family budget.
Students usually enter the tutoring period with a two to three grade level deficiency, measured against national norms. By the end of their second year, however, Iza says that 90 percent are performing at or above grade level. Both the tutoring sessions and workshops are grounded in Christian beliefs, and participating boarding schools have an evangelical Christian mission.
While half of Iza’s students attend area public or private schools, the others go as far away as Iowa or New Hampshire. All are encouraged to return and assist others (Iza’s current assistant, Caroline Miranda, is herself a graduate of the program). Participating schools give scholarships that cover at least 75 percent of education costs; the remainder is paid by the parents and OEIC.
Iza concedes that it has been more difficult to promote the program’s success to potential donors than he anticipated, and has had to cap the program’s annual growth at 20 percent. He wanted to, as he put it, “get the product right and build a donor base” before he attempted to attract the interest of foundations. He is now beginning to focus on that goal, as well as opening a permanent office in the Washington Heights neighborhood and having a full-time, paid staff member to oversee the program.
Iza does not hesitate when asked about his program’s greatest accomplishment: “Where the system seems to have given up on average kids in the inner-city, we have shown that these kids can be productive members of society and that they can see a future for themselves.”
Grantor: Fieldstead & Co., Irvine, California
Grantee: Enough Is Enough
Amount: $160,000 (1996-1997)
Pornography is now the third-largest source of revenue generated on the Internet, a consequence probably undreamed of in the early 1960s when computer scientists developed the computer network as a nuclear bomb-proof communications system. The Internet is already host to 72,000 commercial pornography sites with 266 new sites being added each day, according to Log-On Data, a California firm that produces software to allow parents to block access to sites with objectionable content.
Such content is readily accessible, moreover, even to those not looking for it. Type the words “toys” or “doll house” into any popular Internet search tool and you are one mouse click away from web sites with names—much less content—too obscene to mention in this publication.
Things might seem bleak for parents, many of whom are still relatively unsophisticated when it comes to computers, and who can expect little handholding from Internet service providers. But a Fairfax, Virginia, based group is doing what it can to give parents the tools to control what their children are exposed to at home.
Originally founded to combat traditional forms of sexual exploitation of children, women, and men by illegal pornography, Enough is Enough officers quickly found that one of their major battles was on the entirely new front of cyberspace.
In addition to basic information on the harms of pornography, the organization’s forthcoming “Internet Safety Kit” will provide parents with a glossary of Internet terms (comments EIE’s Shyla Welch: “Many of these parents can’t program their VCRs. We are trying to make things straightforward for them.”), descriptions of various commercially-available blocking services, and a list of questions to ask a prospective Internet service provider.
Enough is Enough was founded in 1992, and shortly after received an unexpected grant from Howard and Roberta Ahmanson through corporate contributions from Fieldstead & Co. It was this early assistance that enabled EIE to make the transition from its parent organization, obtain its own 501(c)(3) status, and begin to develop a broader financial support base. Early grants also underwrote the placement of large advertisements in major newspapers across the nation.
Since then, EIE’s Internet program has extended to helping parents encourage the use of blocking software at local libraries. This is a task much less straightforward than one might assume, as libraries increasingly are refusing on First Amendment grounds to restrict access to any patron, even patrons who are ten years old. This intransigence is being fed by the American Library Association-the nation’s largest and oldest such organization. The ALA’s July 1997 statement on “Library Use of Filtering Software” warns that “locking Internet sites is antithetical to library missions because it requires the library to limit information access” and actually recommends that libraries “consider using privacy screens or arranging terminals away from public view to protect a user’s confidentiality.”
Stigmatizing pornography and implementing appropriate policies in public libraries are long-term tasks that will rely heavily on the ability of groups like Enough is Enough to change public norms. After some 1,500 media interviews, the group continues to engage the public debate. And they are not alone in their views. A June 1997 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, for instance, found that 94 percent of respondents believe a ban on Internet pornography should be legal. With computers in 19 million American homes and a pledge by President Clinton of “a computer in every classroom by the year 2000,” it is a topic the importance of which will only increase in coming years.