Harris Rosen Plans for a New Preschool Program
by Debra Wood
Education was the opportunity for change that took Southwest resident, philanthropist and businessman Harris Rosen from a rough neighborhood in New York’s Upper East Side to the renowned hotel investor he is today. You can’t go very far in Central Florida without seeing his name attached to exclusive hotels, a medical center, a Jewish community center, and even a college building.
Knowing what education provided him in a blessed life, Rosen believes that anyone can succeed if given the chance to get an education. He invested into creating the Tangelo Park Program, a three-pronged program that includes the promise of a free college or vocational school education — including room, board, books, tuition and travel — to any youth graduating high school in Tangelo Park, a small, rural African-American neighborhood off International Drive. To date, the program has graduated close to 400 children from high school, with close to 200 college degrees awarded. Also, the crime rate is down more than 50 percent during the past six years.
His next endeavor is to contribute to another school project in the urban Parramore neighborhood at the OCPS Academic Center for Excellence, where students have the option of attending the preschool, then must proceed through eighth grade and on to Jones High School. When he announced the program last year, Rosen immediately provided college scholarships to the 14 Jones High School graduates who lived in Parramore and recently awarded this year’s group of scholarships. This will continue even though the new preschool does not open until August. It is a project that Rosen wants others around the nation to replicate and build upon in order to give youngsters a chance to succeed.
“We just want help in letting people know that this is a wonderful opportunity for schools in America; that’s my prayer,” Rosen said. “We have been so blessed, and that is the reason we can help youngsters achieve more. If I can get an education, anyone can do it.”
Development in Parramore
Rosen’s program for Parramore would resemble much of how the Tangelo Park Program was established years ago, although it will be five times larger and have the benefit of housing students in a preschool building that will be open this August, when the main school opens.
“In August, we will see students from the inner-city neighborhoods begin a new experience in preschool,” Rosen said. “The students will go through each grade in that building, and, upon graduation from Jones High School, they will qualify for the full scholarship into college.”
The new school will also include a community medical facility and attached Boys & Girls Club to provide children with after-school activities while their parents work.
The school was determined because of the fact that there were more multifamily than single-family homes in the Parramore community, which was prevalent in the Tangelo Park area, and thus justified the program’s preschools taking place in local individuals’ homes.
Curriculum will be the same in the school building as it is with the Tangelo Park Program; however, the 48 teachers’ salaries, director’s salary, information technology needs, furniture repairs and school necessities will be paid for by Rosen.
Dream Turned to Educational Reality
Most of the direction for the school program in Parramore comes from the overwhelming success of the Tangelo Park Program, which Rosen started more than 24 years ago.
“While sitting at my desk one day, it occurred to me that I needed to say, ‘Thank you, God,’ and count my blessings; and also be in a position to offer a helping hand to some people in need,” Rosen recalled. “We were the first in our family to go to college, my brother and I [from Russian and Austrian/Hungarian immigrant lineage]. Since education was such an important part of my life, something that Mom and Dad emphasized if I had any hopes of leaving the neighborhood, I thought I would do something with education in some way [to help others].”
Rosen collaborated with early childhood expert Sarah Sprinkle and a recognized Orange County principal to formulate and organize the plan to be known as the Tangelo Park Initiative, later the Tangelo Park Program.
Harris Rosen believes education is the key to success for everyone.
Tangelo Park came to mind as a community in need because of the frequent mobility of residents after residing in the area one or two years and a lack of educational support. The program included the component of preschools occupying residents’ homes in Tangelo Park, so children ages 2-4 could get a preschool education by a licensed caregiver while their parents were at work.
The University of Central Florida got involved with mentorship programs for parents and students, which were about 60 preschoolers in 10 homes. Upon high school graduation, the students would get a free scholarship to attend any Florida community college, four-year school and/or trade school.
The community was skeptical at first about Rosen’s intentions with the school program, concerned about whether this was for his benefit or if the program was only available to students who started in preschool and not older children.
“I took care of [those beliefs] right away,” Rosen said. “I made sure any student wanting to go to college would go free of charge, and people went crazy. Twenty-four years later, at this moment, there is virtually no mobility, as people are waiting to move until their children graduate from college, and 400 youngsters have graduated from the Tangelo Park Program. High school graduation rates are at 100 percent from 45 percent, and college graduation is at a 78 percent rate, compared to the national average of a 35 percent four-year college graduation.”
Each year, an alumni party is held at one of Rosen’s hotels to bring graduates together to reflect on their stories and achievements. One of Rosen’s favorite events with the Tangelo Park Program is getting to assist in the preschool graduations with handing out diplomas and moving tassels on their hats.
As part of the Tangelo Park Program, Harris Rosen (far left) helps with a preschool graduation.
“There are a lot of tears with families there, and what I say every graduation is ‘Be prepared, Mom and Dad, because you are going to go to a lot of graduations,’” Rosen said.
With such amazing results from a worthy cause, Rosen finds it hard to fathom that he has not been able to get other individuals and organizations on board with supporting Parramore’s school project, but he hasn’t given up hope that education is still what people want everyone to have.
“We believe that we have now created a new template for underserved communities, which we believe will change the communities dramatically where crime will go down, families will have hope again, and they will be able to enjoy the same benefits as other families enjoy,” Rosen said. “It has been a wonderful 24 years, and now we hope and pray that others throughout America will hear about the program and will come and visit both neighborhoods, talking to the children and parents and teachers. They will see for themselves what is possible in their communities.” ♥