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Who We Are

Our Mission

We exist to champion equity in Winston-Salem by providing unmatched educational opportunities for the underserved children of our city.

According to a 2015 Harvard study, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is the hardest city in which to escape child poverty in the United States (with the exception of three Indian Reservations: for more information, see “How Did We Get Here?”). The Piedmont Renewal Network was formed in response to this alarming reality, with the goal of launching a project that would impact economic mobility in Winston-Salem as directly and effectively as possible.

There is no silver bullet in the fight for equitable economic mobility, but if there was, it would be education. It has been demonstrated that a leading factor in the economic mobility rates of a given geography are dependent upon the quality of the local educational ecosystem (See “How Did We Get Here? Part 2”). Not only have many of Winston-Salem’s public schools struggled to demonstrate adequate results for quite some time, the city also maintains a notable lack of high-quality, auxiliary educational services targeted at the lower income population.
In light of these facts, we made the determination that the Piedmont Renewal Network would pursue equitable economic mobility in Winston-Salem by creating a program of unmatched educational support and opportunity.

Our Model

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 72%

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 reason for NAI’s success – its unmatched level of rigor and comprehensive support – 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. 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.

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.

After preliminary research and dialogue with the NAI team out at USC, we went out to Los Angeles to study the model in greater depth in the fall of 2017. This marked the beginning of what has become a rich collaboration between the Piedmont Renewal Network and our friends at USC to launch the first NAI inspired program in the country right here in Winston-Salem.

We decided early on that instead of attempting to pay for the full tuition scholarships students would be offered through our version of the NAI program, we would attempt to partner with local colleges and universities who were willing to invest in equitable economic mobility by committing to furning the scholarships themselves. To date, we have partnered with Forsyth Tech, Winston-Salem State and Piedmont International University, and have secured a combined total of fifty full tuition scholarships annually for students who complete this program (with our first cohort graduating in 2024).

We have gradually incorporated the various aspects of USC’s model into the services we provide our scholars here locally, and now have a program that closely mirrors NAI in Winston-Salem. We call this program the College Lift Initiative — you can read more about it here.

Our Plan

The PRN team is now largely comprised of educators. Their purpose for working on this team, however, is not simply to educate; it is to leverage education as a tool in the creation of opportunity for our underserved students. Again, there is no silver bullet in the fight against poverty, but if there was one, it would be education. As stated above, we do not think of the PRN as an educational nonprofit, but as a project dedicated to fostering economic mobility in Winston-Salem by means of education. Individuals in the United States who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher are 600% less likely to live in poverty than those who did not graduate high school. We were originally attracted to the NAI model (which maintains a 99% college attendance rate, with over 70% college completion) because we envisioned a day in which 70% of our students were 600% less likely to live in poverty because of their time in our program.

“Individuals in the United States who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher are 600% less likely to live in poverty than those who did not graduate high school.”

While our vision for equitable economic mobility in Winston-Salem is broad, we have a series of specific benchmarks we are looking towards along the way:

Near Term Goals – Fall 2020

Through till fall of 2020, the PRN is looking to round out its first academic year of full NAI programming. This is the first year we have provided students with a complete after school tutoring program, summer programming, and a variety of other enhancements that will make our services optimally effective. Though It will take years for the College Lift Initiative to reproduce NAI’s efficacy and results, we hope to consolidate our strong start with an excellent showing throughout the rest of the 2019 – 2020 academic year.

Even in these early days, the PRN is aiming to see positive outcomes from its programming. Over the course of this academic year, third party experts will be working with us to collect data and analyze results. Although the benefits of this programming are borne out over the course of nearly a decade, we believe that appreciable academic improvement can be documented by the end of the 2019 – 2020 school year.

The establishment of a broad based coalition. The “Network” in Piedmont Renewal Network represents our effort to foster as many connections in the community as possible. Indeed, partnership with other agencies and organizations is not a mere desire for the PRN, it is an indispensable need. We cannot provide the level of quality, wraparound support which we have promised our families without deep collaboration with other local agencies. From local universities to local businesses, from the school district to the faith community, there is no success for the Piedmont Renewal Network in the absence of dynamic partnerships.

Mid Range Goals – The Next 6 to 10 Years

In the next decade, our goal is to see our students graduate high school and attend college at the same rates of students in USC’s NAI program (100% high school graduation, 99% college attendance).
We plan to add many more scholarship opportunities for students enrolled in our program over the coming years. A growing number of available scholarships will enable the PRN to expand its cohort sizes, serving more and more families as time goes on. Eventually, we hope to see incoming classes of students counted not in dozens, but in hundreds.

As these cohort sizes grow, we expect to see a substantial positive impact in our student’s schools. Imagine the effect that having hundreds of students enrolled in a program that produces higher GPAs and 100% high school graduation could have on some of Winston-Salem’s struggling schools. As average school performance rises, middle-class parents who have options will be more inclined to leave their children in these schools, enhancing the performance and environment of the school further still. Such transcendent, ripple effects have been documented in USC’s NAI program, and we look forward to witnessing similar impact here in Winston-Salem.

Long Term Goals – 2030 to 2040

After decades of strategically bolstering Winston-Salem’s struggling schools as described above, we believe we will help create a more equitable district, with greater equality of opportunity for groups of students who are currently being left behind. It will be far from perfect, but if we can duplicate the impact of USC’s NAI program in multiple schools in this district, something extraordinary will have been accomplished.

We want to see children born in Winston-Salem and raised in its struggling schools compete for the best jobs on the market. Right now, Winston-Salem is a city where low income individuals tend to remain so. That fact will change as thousands of Winston-Salem’s underserved residents graduate college and realize their potential.

Our greatest impact will not be on students we serve directly today, but on their children in the years to come. Through the College Lift Initiative, we believe that we can help many of ours students beat the odds and escape low income living situations as adults. No matter how much we do for our students, however, we cannot mitigate all of the effects of being raised in a low income situation. The physical, psychological and emotional toll of the struggle will be felt by many of our students for years to come, regardless of their future socioeconomic status. Fortunately, the cycle can truly come to an end in the lives of our student’s future children. A powerful example of this is a recent study which found that African American children are 860% less likely to live in poverty if their parents/parent graduated from college as opposed to dropping out of high school. Compared to children living in poverty, middle class children display greater emotional health, academic success, and overall well being. While lifting children out of poverty is a worthy cause, ensuring that children who have yet to be born never have to know poverty is a far more compelling end.

Mid Range Goals – The Next 6 to 10 Years

In the next decade, our goal is to see our students graduate high school and attend college at the same rates of students in USC’s NAI program (100% high school graduation, 99% college attendance).
We plan to add many more scholarship opportunities for students enrolled in our program over the coming years. A growing number of available scholarships will enable the PRN to expand its cohort sizes, serving more and more families as time goes on. Eventually, we hope to see incoming classes of students counted not in dozens, but in hundreds.

As these cohort sizes grow, we expect to see a substantial positive impact in our student’s schools. Imagine the effect that having hundreds of students enrolled in a program that produces higher GPAs and 100% high school graduation could have on some of Winston-Salem’s struggling schools. As average school performance rises, middle-class parents who have options will be more inclined to leave their children in these schools, enhancing the performance and environment of the school further still. Such transcendent, ripple effects have been documented in USC’s NAI program, and we look forward to witnessing similar impact here in Winston-Salem.

Long Term Goals – 2030 to 2040

After decades of strategically bolstering Winston-Salem’s struggling schools as described above, we believe we will help create a more equitable district, with greater equality of opportunity for groups of students who are currently being left behind. It will be far from perfect, but if we can duplicate the impact of USC’s NAI program in multiple schools in this district, something extraordinary will have been accomplished.

We want to see children born in Winston-Salem and raised in its struggling schools compete for the best jobs on the market. Right now, Winston-Salem is a city where low income individuals tend to remain so. That fact will change as thousands of Winston-Salem’s underserved residents graduate college and realize their potential.

Our greatest impact will not be on students we serve directly today, but on their children in the years to come. Through the College Lift Initiative, we believe that we can help many of ours students beat the odds and escape low income living situations as adults. No matter how much we do for our students, however, we cannot mitigate all of the effects of being raised in a low income situation. The physical, psychological and emotional toll of the struggle will be felt by many of our students for years to come, regardless of their future socioeconomic status. Fortunately, the cycle can truly come to an end in the lives of our student’s future children. A powerful example of this is a recent study which found that African American children are 860% less likely to live in poverty if their parents/parent graduated from college as opposed to dropping out of high school. Compared to children living in poverty, middle class children display greater emotional health, academic success, and overall well being. While lifting children out of poverty is a worthy cause, ensuring that children who have yet to be born never have to know poverty is a far more compelling end.

Our Vision

We envision a future in which effort and giftedness, not ethnicity and economic background, form the destinies of children born in Winston-Salem.

¹ R Raj Chetty 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 Chetty, R., Hendren, N., Kline, P., Saez, E. (2014). Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States. Equality of Opportunity Project.
³ Preparation for College and Career,” Forsyth Futures, accessed February 28th, 2019. https://www.forsythfutures.org/indicator_preparation-for-college-and-career/
⁴ 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.
⁵ DeNavas-Walt, Carmen and Bernadette D. Proctor, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014 U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Reports P60-252, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2015. Accessed 1/26/2019.
⁶ “The Condition of Education: Characteristics of Children’s Families.” National Center for Education Statistics. Last Modified May 2018. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cce.asp.