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Boys and Girls Harbor looks to continue founder’s legacy

Stephon Johnson | 5/15/2014, 11:24 a.m.

Last week, the founder of Boys and Girls Harbor, Anthony “Tony” Drexel Duke, passed away at the age of 95. But despite the sad news, the organization he founded is looking to a bright future. In continuing his legacy of helping those less fortunate through education, the program he founded has some significant plans.

The AmNews got a tour of the facility, including the rooftops of the H-shaped building that will be renovated for recreational activities. The AmNews also toured the pool, where new windows accompany the renovation of that area. Boys and Girls Harbor will also add more pre-K classrooms, where more kids will get a head start on their education.

The Boys and Girls Harbor education model is designed as a “continuum,” with integrated early learning, after-school programming, the performing arts and close relationships with parents, local schools and the community at large.

Founded in 1937 by Duke, Harbor was initially a small summer camp in the Hamptons for economically disadvantaged boys from New York City. The camp’s counselors were all Duke’s friends, including U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, Bishop Paul Moore and New York City Mayor Robert Wagner. Along the way, the program allowed in female students, expanded to include performing arts and moved its headquarters to its current East Harlem location at 104th Street and Fifth Avenue, next to El Museo del Barrio.

Dr. Thomas Howard Jr., executive director of Boys and Girls Harbor, spoke with the AmNews on the current goals of the program and the changes it has undergone aesthetically and intellectually.

“We wanted to create this state-of-the-art learning environment,” Howard told the AmNews. “Research shows that relationships matter and environment matters. We want to create environments conducive to learning at a high level. We’ve learned that the brain is really capable of functioning at a high level, but it’s driven by quality of exposure, experience and relationships.

“We want to build a philosophy of intellectual character,” continued Howard. “Our work is about teaching for intelligence so [participants] go into schools with a different level of curiosity and confidence.”

Some of what the program does to instill that confidence in kids includes preschool and after-school programs for children between the ages of 18 months to 5, 5 to 12 and 12 to 19. The programs provided for the children vary with research-based math and reading curriculums, dance classes, educational trips, STEM-related activities, chess, cooking classes that encourage healthy eating, college trips, participation in a “micro society,” tutors in foreign languages, financial literacy classes and summer work-study opportunities.

As for the increased number of pre-K classes, Howard has a specific number he wants as his end game.

“I envision a preschool of well over 300 students in this building, and the purpose of the expansion has nothing to do with size,” said Howard. “The purpose is to now send large cohorts of students who are kindergarten-ready where we’ve nipped the achievement gap at the door, so kids walk in at a level playing field.”

When one steps into Boys and Girls Harbor, you can sense the desire to provide a holistic education for kids. You can sense the urge from every professional there to engage children in the arts and sciences and either extend a child’s school day or send them to school intellectually well-armed.

With its continuing efforts to develop “intellectual character,” Boys and Girls Harbor looks well-equipped to continue Tony Duke’s legacy.