Latasha Morgan, director of the Baby College at the Harlem Children’s Zone, makes the Energizer Bunny look like a slacker.

A typical apartment building in Harlem. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Morgan, who has worked for the New York nonprofit for 18 years, said its Baby College is a pretty simple concept: It takes about 75 parents of newborns and has them attend nine consecutive Saturday classes to teach them what they need “to raise happy and healthy babies.”

It is the entryway for an entire array of services for the children — and their families — that can carry on for decades.

“We’re saving and changing lives,” Morgan said.

Each class devotes attention to a single subject, from immunizations to how best to discipline children. Those parents who come to each session have a shot at winning a free month’s rent, but are guaranteed meals and child care to encourage them to attend.

“Everything we’re doing for our families is free,” Morgan said.

That the Baby College has 23 full-time staffers and 27 part-timers perhaps gives an indication of just how much goes into it.

There is a lot of outreach to find parents and round them up, to contact them between classes, to meet with them during the week, to develop the best possible curricula and much more.

Parents are the key, Morgan said, as “the number one person who knows the child.”

Baby College seeks to empower parents and encourage them “to own” their responsibilities and endeavor to do right by the children.

Before the first class, Baby College holds a baby shower for expectant parents. That is one way to get them on the radar, Morgan said. Classes are usually in English, but available in Spanish and French. They feature topical experts.

The first week is devoted to orientation and surveys. Week two covers immunizations, to make sure children are protected from disease. Weeks three and four focus on brain development, including encouragement for parents to read, sing and play with their youngsters.

Weeks five and six are devoted to discipline, teaching parents who may never have seen it for themselves how to use non-physical tactics to teach their children what to do. Morgan said there is often “some old lady talking about using a belt and I say, ‘No, no, no, that’s not how we do it anymore.’”

Week seven is devoted to health issues, from obesity to asthma to the threat posed by lead. The eighth week targets safety, including the need to cover electrical outlet and use safety gates. They are given gates as well, Morgan said.

The final week is simply graduation, with a raffle for the rent money.

“We give them a beautiful ceremony,” she said.

Morgan said once graduation is past, participants continue to receive newsletters, phone calls to check up on them, invitations to events and more, all of it designed to keep them in the loop and ready to jump into the nonprofit’s many programs.

“We’re calling parents all the time,” Morgan said. “Relationships are very important.”

The program tries to have at least 350 parents make it through Baby College annually. More than 6,000 parents have graduated from Baby College since it began in 2000.

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