This East Harlem neighborhood, one of the poorest in the city, is no stranger to drugs, violence, and AIDS. Yet it's also home to bright, motivated kids, and parents who want to give them a chance at a good education and a peer pressure that isn't born of the streets. It seemed poverty and poor education created an unbreakable cycle; dealers openly ruled many of the streets and didn't hesitate to protect their turf.
Hans and Ivan Hageman grew up in this neighborhood; in fact their parents moved in on purpose to open Exodus House, a residential treatment center for drug addicts. (Dad Lynn Hageman was a Methodist minister; mom Leola was unofficial housemother to an interesting assortment of young men.) The boys, one year apart in age, grew up in the house with their sister Erika, playing hoops and gaining insight and understanding from the many residents who passed through.
After attending topnotch schools and beginning high-powered careers, Hans and Ivan each felt drawn back to their old neighborhood. They faced down drug lords to clean up their old block and turned Exodus House into the East Harlem School, an oasis of learning for kids in the neighborhood-largely black and Hispanic-who demonstrate a high level of motivation. And they need motivation-The East Harlem School's academic year is eleven months long, and each student averages three hours of homework a night (no television allowed on school nights.) The theory is that they'll be submerged in one culture or the other, and "we hope they choose a life of the mind, of art, athletics and fellowship rather than buy into the consumerist society," says principal Ivan Hageman. The fifth through eighth grade students sink or swim-and pretty quickly. Most know what they're getting into when they apply, and they swim, not stopping at eighth grade graduation. In fact, every graduate has been accepted in a top high school, and the study habits they've acquired at the East Harlem School are serving them well.
"I don't know how our lives would be different if my dad had just been the kind of minister whose week was taken up by parish committees and working on a Sunday sermon. Instead, he lived out his faith every day, committing to folks that haven't had so many opportunities. Dad took the Scriptures, his life and his God-given responsibilities seriously. He taught us to find real joy in the accomplishments of others, in helping people make their lives feel worthwhile, giving them power and a sense of pride. That's exactly what the East Harlem School is about." -Ivan Hageman
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you live within striking distance of New York City, the school can use you as a tutor! If not, and you'd like to contribute financially, the school is beginning a capital campaign to buy a much-needed second building. This will house arts and science resources. It will also provide a boarding facility. "Some of the students have not been able to achieve to their full potential because their families are facing hardships. If these boys and girls had a quiet, safe place to stay, it would make all the difference." For further information, contact Paul Brill at 212-987-9775 x 305.