By Logan Philon | January 8th, 2019
We are excited to announce that on January 14th-16th, representatives of the University of Southern California’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program will be visiting Winston-Salem to support the Piedmont Renewal Network! The purpose of the visit is to not only provide training to our staff as we create a NAI like program in Winston-Salem, but also to raise local awareness and support for the project.
With this visit just over the horizon, we thought it would be fitting to explain why the Piedmont Renewal Network has chosen to pattern its college access program, the College Lift Initiative (CLI) off of USC’s NAI model. As many of you know, the Piedmont Renewal Network exists to create equality of opportunity among the economically disenfranchised groups of Winston-Salem. Indeed, according to a 2015 Harvard study, Winston-Salem is the hardest place to escape child poverty in the United States (with the exception of a few Indian Reservations).¹ At the outset, we identified education as our area of impact for two reasons:
1. Educational opportunities are absolutely essential for an individual to find economic stability. There is no silver bullet in the fight against poverty, but if there was, it would be education. As long as our society is structured the way it is, education will stand out among all other anti-poverty measures as the one indispensable element.
2. At the time the Piedmont Renewal Network was founded, Winston-Salem simply did not have any nonprofits providing the level of academic support that many of its students needed to truly have an equal shot at opportunity in life.
When conducting research on which model to pursue for our work in Winston-Salem, we came across a college access program put on by the University of Southern California with over thirty years of incredible results (NAI). This program boasted:
- A 100% high school graduation rate
- A final average high school GPA of 3.6%
- A 99% college attendance rate
An average college graduation rate of over 70% (on par, if not higher, than the average maintained by many of the finest universities in the United States).
Just as surprising to us as these results was the fact that after thirty years of success, no other University or nonprofit had replicated USC’s NAI model. Despite receiving attention from media outlets such as The New York Times, Politico, the Huffington Post, and others, NAI remained one of a kind. We soon discovered that the reasons for NAI’s success were the same reasons it had yet to be copied.
USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative in the News
The literature points to five key factors found in successful college preparatory programs. While most results producing programs focus on one or two of these areas, NAI emphasizes all five.² They are:
1. A heavy academic focus
From 6th to 12th grade, students enrolled in the NAI program are required to attend Saturday Academy, a rigorous tutoring program that takes place from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM every Saturday during the school year. This program is accompanied by after school tutoring for students whose grades are suffering, in addition to receiving specialized instruction during the week at their home schools.
2. Involving entire families in the student’s journey
Parents of students enrolled in the NAI program are required to attend the Family Development Institute (FDI). Through FDI, parents participate in sessions designed to involve them in their child’s journey to college and lower educational barriers in the home. Sessions typically last for a few hours and are held every other week, on average. This creates a robust level of parent involvement replicated in few other college access programs.
3. Introducing students to social capital
NAI students are intentionally exposed to a variety of experiences throughout their time in the program, meant to develop their social and cultural capital. To begin with, Saturday Academy is held on the campus of USC, which exposes them to the college environment from an early age. Students are also given the opportunity to participate in theatre, attend special events, and audit college classes at USC.
4. Cultivating a self-concept among students
NAI is incredibly strong on this point. Upon entering NAI, the children are not referred to as students but as scholars. They recite a code of ethics every week at Saturday Academy which delineates what is expected of them as scholars, and are constantly reminded by staff that they are unique and talented. This has a strong psychological effect on the students that our team has noted first hand during on site training at USC.
5. Providing students with resources to navigate the urban environment
The NAI program provides counseling services and social workers for students and their parents. Due to NAI’s long term investment in entire families, sufficient trust is cultivated to ensure these counseling and social services are utilized without reservation and to full effect.³
The reason for all of this effort? Students who successfully complete this course over the entire seven years and get accepted into the University of Southern California are able to attend tuition free. Taken together, the multiple facets of USC’s NAI program set it apart from the bulk of college access programs.
The Piedmont Renewal Network is working to recreate this dynamic program here in Winston-Salem. After securing the necessary partnerships at local universities, the Piedmont Renewal Network launched its version of the NAI program for Winston-Salem, the College Lift Initiative (CLI). CLI started with Saturday Academy in January of 2018, and has since added parent programming similar to NAI’s (Family Accompaniment), with plans to roll out after school tutoring this January.
Excellence comes at a price. It takes a long time to create, adapt, and perfect an incredible program such as NAI, but the children in our program (who now know themselves as scholars too) deserve nothing less. The Piedmont Renewal Network is committed to this model because it produces increased economic mobility (i.e. it gives kids a chance) unlike any other scalable program that we have seen.
We are thrilled and honored to host NAI’s leadership here in Winston-Salem in the coming days, and will provide a report on the activities of the visit as soon as possible!
¹ Chetty, Raj, and Nathaniel Hendren. “Data from Chetty and Hendren (2015): Causal Effects, Mobility Estimates and Covariates by County, CZ and Birth Cohort.” Equality of Opportunity, Harvard University. 2015, http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/index.php/data
² Zarate, Lizette. “‘We’re Different because We’re Scholars’: A Case Study of a College Access Program in South Los Angeles.” PhD diss., Loyola Marymount University, 2013.
³ Zarate, 2013.