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Diaby/Samassi Family Builds Bright Future at Harlem Children’s Zone

Mariam, as a new mom at Harlem Children’s Zone, learned the ins and outs of early childhood development and how to raise her kids in a safe, healthy home.

Sametchie, her daughter, became a math whiz and budding nutritionist who taught her family about healthy eating.

Yaya, Mariam’s son, discovered a passion for chess and made plans to go to college while inspiring his younger sister to do the same.

This is what it’s like to build a bright future at Harlem Children’s Zone. Here’s the story of the Diaby/Samassi family — a story of the resilience of our community and the power of our model.

Woman sitting on couch smiling

Mariam Diaby is proud of her children, Yaya and Sametchie, who are thriving as scholars at Harlem Children’s Zone.

Power of our model

To understand our model, get to know the Diaby/Samassi family. 

Their Harlem Children’s Zone journey began 15 years ago at our landmark program, Baby College. There, Mariam, a new mother at the time, learned best practices for meaningful interactions with her children. Next, Mariam and Yaya, then a toddler, took part in Three-Year-Old Journey. In the program, Miriam built relationships with other parents while Yaya made friends with other kids. Then, Yaya and later, Sametchie, enrolled in our Harlem Gems preschool program — setting them up for success in school through literacy, math, and social emotional learning.

After Gems, it was onto HCZ Promise Academy, our premier K-12 charter schools. Mariam had heard good things about Promise from her sister, who had enrolled her kids in the school. 

“There was never any question that I would send Yaya and Sametchie there, too,” Mariam says.

Thriving at Promise

At Promise, Yaya and Sametchie thrived. Yaya fell in love with chess in third grade, playing in our after-school programs before joining the chess club in middle school and competing in tournaments.

Meanwhile, Sametchie discovered her passion for math and English Language Arts while sharing the healthy habits she picked up at Healthy Harlem to her mom and siblings (“she would say to me, ‘Mummy, you have to be healthy, you gotta eat broccoli, you have to eat these other things,’” Mariam says, laughing).

Yaya and Sametchie give Promise Academy rave reviews.

“The teachers are good here because they care about us, and they go out of their way to help you succeed,” says Yaya, 12. “If you’re failing, they won’t let you fail. They make sure you’re doing your work and you’re at the top of your classes.”

“It’s fun. It’s amazing, and I love it,” added Sametchie, 8.

Student and teacher playing chess in classroom

Yaya Samassi plays chess with his teacher at Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy Middle School.

A helping hand through the pandemic

Harlem Children’s Zone’s community of support extends beyond our schools and programs.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Diaby/Samassi family — and many other families who reside in our 97-block zone — faced unprecedented challenges. At the time, Mariam, a baker, found herself temporarily out of work. Yaya and Sametchie found themselves at home, attending school virtually for the first time after Promise Academy transitioned to remote instruction. Through our COVID-19 Relief and Recovery effort led by our William Julius Wilson Institute, Harlem Children’s Zone was by their side every step of the way.

Passionate teachers, technology for remote learning, and emergency supplies helped the family weather the crisis. Yaya and Sametchie got laptops to learn from home and the family received emergency food and funds.  

“That was around Christmas, so my Mom bought me some clothes and got me some sneakers,” Yaya says. “My sister got some, too.”

Recalls Mariam, “The first time I went to pick up the food, I didn’t expect to get a lot of stuff. But they gave me a lot — milk, rice, eggs, and vegetables. On Thanksgiving, we had a turkey. They helped me a lot.”

‘I’m on the path to college’

For Yaya, Sametchie, and the vast majority of our scholars, the path from our programs and HCZ Promise Academy leads straight to college — and ultimately, successful careers. The path begins early at Harlem Children’s Zone. Though still in middle school, Yaya has already taken class trips to colleges, including Duke University.

“I’m on the path to college,” Yaya says. “You are taught about college from the time you come into Promise Academy. You get to visit different colleges. They provide you with everything you need to get there.”

Mariam is excited, too. After seeing her sister’s children, now graduates of Promise Academy, go to college, she can see the promising future that lies ahead for Yaya and Sametchie.

“I love Promise Academy because they make the kids promise, ‘One day, I will be in college,’” Mariam says.