Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Visit to EDCI

Today I got to step away from my hectic law school student life and enter the world of the East Durham Children's Initiative for a couple hours. I visited the Initiative's home in the offices of the Center for Child and Family Health, high up in the NC Mutual Life Building with a view of downtown sprawling out and blending into green trees. EDCI is full of energy. When I arrived, staff pulled me straight into a strategy session choosing a new logo. Those small things matter when you're branding a project to succeed over the long haul, and the EDCI folks are both passionate about their work and savvy about selling their vision to foundations and community leaders. I had done my research and trusted that EDCI was a worthy cause when I started BIKE NC, but my afternoon visit confirmed that decision a thousandfold.

I met with staff members Mary Matthew, Program Manager, and David Reese, Executive Director. Mary got her start working in research and evaluation around issues impacting NC youth. She also practiced as a DPS Occupational Therapist serving children with special needs and lower-income families.David was the Chief Operating Officer of the awesome Interfaith Food Shuttle, so draws on knowledge about the importance of food and nutrition and a strong background in nonprofit management.

EDCI supports programs that address eduation and other social needs of children and families in East Durham, including child obesity. They provide supplemental nutrition to kids over the summer. They support programming that spans a child's life from womb (prenatal education and support and nurse visits to families with babies) to college or career readiness. And everything in between. College students from Duke and NC Central were trained through the Hill Center to provide tutoring support to every student at YE Smith Elementary, a focus school of EDCI. The array of services and strategies is dizzying.

What makes it possible is that EDCI is not building new things from the ground up. They are partnering with existing organizations and projects - the Center for Child and Family Health, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the Hill Center, Durham Public Schools, Citizen Schools, and the Duke Health System, to name a few - making them more powerful by linking them, filling in the gaps, creating a pipeline of services. No kid is going to fall through the cracks if they are in this pipeline, or at least that's the goal. EDCI employs three Parent Advocates, people that work with a child, and his or her parents and teachers, making home visits to families and getting them connected to the right social or health services. And their work is focused on a 120 block area - 4,400 kids, youth and young adults - in East Durham. 48% of the kids at YE Smith are overweight or obese. The median household income in 2000 was $25,616, 62% of the median for the City of Durham. These are just two statistics about a high poverty area. David Reese says that EDCI's goal is to saturate this area completely. Being involved with EDCI will become the norm for families in this part of East Durham.

What I love about EDCI is that there's no silver bullet. No one is claiming that one slick program is going to fix everything. This is not a sexy, short-lived policy idea. EDCI knows that it takes a team - parents, teachers, community workers - to give children the tools to learn successfully in a context of poverty or developmental challenges. And EDCI wants the community to succeed, not just for kids to succeed in spite of the community. They know that successful, sustainable education reaches beyond the walls of the school. YE Smith, the focus elementary school of EDCI, has an extended school day - these longer hours have been studied as a promising tool to help close the achievement gap. But EDCI is not about pushing this one solution as The Answer for Education. They are creating a network that draws on the community's strength. But they are not touchy feely about it. Every initiative is evaluated rigorously, in partnership with the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke. EDCI wants evidence that what they're doing is working. 25% of a group of fourth and fifth grade students studied on a small scale at YE Smith moved up to passing end of grade tests in a single school year, from failing in previous years, through EDCI's tutoring and support efforts. That's the kind of statistic that policymakers and education researchers swoon about.

EDCI is modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone, which is the brain child of Geoffrey Canada. He is the guru of the cradle to college model. The Harlem Children's Zone is tremendously exciting. EDCI's founders visited it to get ideas, and Geoffrey Canada visited EDCI this year to give guidance and feedback. But EDCI is also doing things its own way, drawing on the passion for education in Durham, and the wealth of nonprofits, healthcare, and academics here. The community network model is their own.

David and Mary showed me a promotional video about EDCI they put together. Just a collection of different stakeholders involved with EDCI talking about its promise. From the Durham Public Schools superintendent to nonprofit leaders to representatives of deep-pocketed foundations, people were behind EDCI. Feeling like a part of it. Excited by the model. BIKE NC is about getting the community to invest in education. EDCI seems to be the epitome of that.

These photos are EDCI's, a window into the vibrancy of their many projects. Visit their Facebook page to stay up to date.

And please make a donation to BIKE NC. Your funds support EDCI, the NC Partnership for Children (which is connected to some of EDCI's programming!), and Advocates for Children's Services. And your donation is a vote of confidence for the work of these worthy organizations. Mary and David will tell you how much they need that support. EDCI's growth and success are exciting, but people like you and me must help the vision last and spread.

No comments:

Post a Comment