Charlotte, NC

Collective Impact in Children & Youth – increasing the graduation rate of at-risk students

As a result of the findings of the first ever five-county Community Needs Assessment conducted by United Way of Central Carolinas and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte/Urban Institute, United Way is aware, now more than ever, that education is a top priority in our region. Children spend about 20% of their time in school and 80% outside of the classroom. What happens in the out of school time has a tremendous impact on student achievement.

United Way supports a number of out of school programs providing tutoring, academic support, mentoring, and self-esteem building. (See recruitment poster here.) In August, 2011, the United Way board agreed to adopt the Collective Impact model, which focuses on fewer outcomes to achieve greater results. A pilot initiative in children and youth/education in Mecklenburg County has brought 16 United Way funded agencies together with a common goal of increasing the graduation rate over the next 10 years of the at-risk students served by these agencies. Benchmark goals, as well as outcomes and indicators, have also been established along the pipeline of progress from birth to 18 to reach graduation. The goal of Collective Impact is to truly move the dial on some of the greatest issues in our region – starting with education.

Benchmark goals along the pipeline to achieving successful graduation include early learning opportunities with a focus on early literacy, improving school attendance and behavior, increasing the number of students on grade level in reading and math, increasing family engagement, increasing the success rate of students during transition to middle and high school, enhancing summer learning opportunities, along with others. (For more information, click here.)

Collaborative partners in our Grade Level Reading Coalition include A Child’s Place, Ada Jenkins Center/LEARN Works, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Charlotte, Boy Scouts, Mecklenburg County Council; Care Ring, Charlotte Speech and Hearing Center, Child Care Resources, Inc.; Communities In Schools, Council for Children’s Rights, Girl Scouts, Hornets’ Nest Council; Right Moves For Youth, The Learning Collaborative, The Urban League, YMCA and YWCA.

In addition, United Way has partnered with UNC Charlotte Institute for Social Capital to collect data for these agencies so that a shared measurement system is available to measure progress. We currently have the baseline data for these agencies, which reflects how our students were performing before they started receiving services from these agencies.

The baseline study, which was funded by a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation, included a collective total of 8,571 unique participants. Some of the key findings are outlined below. Again, it’s important to note that this data represents how the students performed BEFORE they started receiving services from the 16 agencies.


  • The majority of participants (72 percent) were African-American; 17 percent were Hispanic.

  • Nearly 60 percent attended a high poverty school.

  • A slight majority (53 percent) were female; and half were between the ages of 7 and 11 in the year before entering the United Way agency program.

  • Seventeen percent were designated EC (Exceptional Children), and six percent were receiving English as a Second Language (ESL) services.

Academic Performance

  • Participants were well below the district average on both End of Grade (EOG) and End of Course (EOC) tests.

  • On EOGs, only 40 percent were proficient in reading, and 58 were proficient in math.

  • On EOCs, 63 percent were proficient in English, and 61 percent were proficient in math.


  • Participants had an average of nine absences in the year before entering the program.

  • One-third of participants were absent ten days or more.

  • Participants had twice as many unexcused absences as excused absences.


  • Participants spent an average of two days in suspension in the year before entering the program.

  • Nearly a quarter were suspended for at least one day.

  • Middle school participants had more suspensions than students in elementary or high school.

By December 2014, we will have Year 2 data which will reflect how the students performed on our state assessments (End-of-Grade – 3rd through 8th grade; and End-of-Course – 9th through 12th grade in reading and math), their school attendance rate, and in-school and out-of-school suspensions since receiving services from these agencies. This data will help drive funding decisions, expansion of successful strategies in the agencies, and more review of strategies that aren’t showing strong results.

Another accomplishment has been the launch and implementation of Project 1,000, a program designed to not only recruit, but to place and train 1,000 volunteers as readers, tutors and mentors in these agencies to work with at-risk students. We have partnered with UNC Charlotte’s Center for Adolescent Literacies to provide the face-to-face training session focused on reading tips and strategies for volunteers working to build reading skills. We also have developed a website in partnership with UNC Charlotte with reading tips, blogs, videos and other online resources for volunteers.

Here are some stats on the progress made this year with Project 1,000


  • Total number of inquiries about the volunteer project – 1,001

  • Total number of volunteers placed with an agency/child – more than 400

  • Total number of volunteers trained – Nearly 150

  • PROJECT 1,000 TRAINING - Partnership with UNC Charlotte Center for Adolescent Literacies

  • 4 trainings offered

  • 3 mentoring trainings offered through Mayors Mentoring Alliance


  • New books in the hands of low-income children – 2,500 books distributed to Project 1,000 volunteers to share with their students and given to agencies – Funding from First Books Charlotte and Target grant

  • Book nooks in agencies/programs – 5 donated this year through IKEA

  • New school uniforms 3,300 donated this year (8,500 in total over three years) by Belk, a locally based retailer

One of the greatest accomplishments in the past year has been the increased collaboration and communication among these agencies and the focus on a continuum of services for the at-risk children we serve. Another success would be the recent announcement of the graduation rate in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools –

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Four-Year Cohort Graduation Rate Increases

    2011-2012 – 76.4% 2012-2013 – 81.0% - up 4.6 percentage points

    2011-2012 – 69.7% 2012-2013 – 74.5% - up 4.8 percentage points

Barriers in the Collective Impact work have been around gathering data from various agencies on their students. Some of our organizations are large and have streamlined databases and staff to assist UNC Charlotte with the data collection, while others are small with fewer human resources and database management. Another barrier has been around funding. We have a funding opportunities plan that outlines the work we want to do to achieve our benchmark goals and our overarching goal; however, our current funding has been limited. We’ve done a great deal of work in the past year with limited resources.

I have been extremely impressed with the community support around our Project 1,000 initiative and the impact the volunteer training session has had on helping volunteers feel more empowered and engaged in their role. We’ve received very favorable feedback in our training surveys about the quality of the training and the usefulness of the resources provided. I also have been surprised and impressed with the strong partnership that’s been established with our local university in our efforts to increase reading skills among our at-risk students.

One unexpected benefit has been the awareness in the community around the Collective Impact work and the community agencies and partner groups interested in becoming involved in the work. Some of those agencies include Freedom Schools, the BELL program, the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance, among others. We have expanded our collaborative in the past year to include other agencies in the partnership work.

I believe we all have a “feel” for how hard partnerships and collaborative work can be, but this effort has heightened that awareness. We continue to say that partnerships and collaborations are difficult, but well worth the effort. We also have learned how difficult it is to collect and analyze data – but we know that having results and outcomes are imperative to the work.

You need to be a member of The Huddle to add comments!

Join The Huddle


  • Enjoyed learning about Project 1,000 and am particularly interested in the mentor training effort with UNC. The baseline study results also are revealing. Good to see the sports teams pitching in too! And thanks for sharing some of the barriers you face. Eager to learn more!

    - Betsy Rubiner, GLR Network's community manager.

This reply was deleted.