In Charlottesville, as in most cities, young people in high-poverty neighborhoods have been less likely to succeed in school, attend college and find sustainable employment than those raised in affluence. But a new initiative in Charlottesville is working to change that. Led by neighborhood residents, the City of Charlottesville, Charlottesville City Schools (CCS), and a group of nonprofit organizations, City of Promise (CoP) is working to create a pathway of supports for children from cradle through college to career in three of the city’s high-poverty neighborhoods: Westhaven, 10th & Page, and Starr Hill.
City of Promise is the result of several interrelated efforts.
1. The City of Promise Action Team began as a workgroup of the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race in 2010 to push for creation of community network of supports for African American children modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone. The goal was to increase student achievement and build a culture of high expectations through community and parent engagement, school reform, and enriched out-of-school experiences for children. It was the Action Team that developed CoP’s vision of “changing the game” for children, as well as its Mission Statement: We commit to creating a community where all children are valued and have the support and the tools they need to make decisions that lead to their success.
2. At the same time, the Charlottesville City Schools Strategic Plan 2007-2011 outlined a firm commitment to closing achievement gaps by raising expectations for all students and focusing on early childhood education, increased graduation rates, and professional development. The updated CCS Strategic Plan 2011-2017 continues this work and outlines expanded goals and objectives for ensuring that all students graduate prepared for post-secondary education and active participation in society.
3. Meanwhile, City Councilor Kristin Szakos had been inspired by conversations with hundreds of Charlottesville residents during her 2009 campaign to try to create a kind of “Children’s Zone” model in the City. She gathered school officials, city leaders and nonprofit directors to encourage them to work together to identify and fill gaps in services, to share data and commit to data-driven results and accountability, and to work with community members to create a city where all children could thrive and be successful.
The three streams came together when the U.S. Department of Education announced that grants would be awarded to fund the planning of such efforts. The City Schools, the City, the Action Team, and several key nonprofits submitted an application. In 2011, Charlottesville’s City of Promise received national recognition as one of only 15 recipients of Promise Neighborhood planning funds. With an additional major grant from the Justice Department and some local funding, City of Promise was able to hire a director, development director and community organizers, as well as several neighborhood intern research assistants to begin engaging the community and conducting a comprehensive needs assessment and analysis of what is needed to create a pathway of supports.
By involving the community on multiple levels to refocus efforts around children’s education, City of Promise is truly changing the game for children in the neighborhoods. City of Promise intends to grow in future years to ultimately provide supports for all children in the city of Charlottesville to succeed in school, work, and life.