Tonya Horton Co-Presents "Cradle to College" at SYNERGY Conference

Building partnerships is essential to bringing more resources into schools to close the achievement and opportunity gap. But where should a school or nonprofit start? In the context of their own experiences with Citizen Schools and East Durham Children's Initiative respectively, Tonya Horton and David Reese provided forty-four SYNERGY conference attendees with a framework for building partnerships in their communities through their presentation, Cradle to College. Tonya Horton is the Executive Director of Citizen Schools North Carolina, and David Reese is the Director of East Durham Children's Initiative. Both presenters shared an overview of their organization and tied their work into the discussion about building partnerships which begins with a "needs assessment" according to Horton and Reese. Once a school or organization has identified what their community needs, the work for connecting with potential partners, formulating a strategy and timeline, and establishing an evaluation process should begin.

Following the formal presentation, all attendees had an opportunity to share ideas from their regions and organizations during the group work session "Building Partnerships in Your Community." Many of the Cradle to College attendees were representatives from all over North Carolina - primarily from Wake, Mecklenburg, Vance, and Guilford counties. Some worked for nonprofits, and others, like Dietrich Danner of Durham Public Schools, were from local school districts. The diversity added to the value of the conversations happening.

After a few group leaders shared highlights form their session, Tonya Horton left the attendees with this reminder about the necessity of building partnerships:

We can't do it all, and we don't do it all well. 

Click here to see photos from the session

About Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools is a national nonprofit organization that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for low income children across the country. Citizen Schools uniquely mobilizes thousands of adult volunteers to help improve student achievement by teaching skill-building apprenticeships. The organization’s programs blend these real-world learning projects with rigorous academic and leadership development activities, preparing students in the middle grades for success in high school, college, the workforce, and civic life.

The Citizen Schools North Carolina program launched in 2006 and currently serves nearly 400 students and engages over 300 volunteers.  Learn more about Citizen Schools’ programs and results at

About East Durham Children's Initiative

EDCI was envisioned by Durham and East Durham community leaders in 2008 after reading Paul Tough’s book Whatever It Takes. Like Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, they were determined to provide children in low wealth communities with the same high quality, comprehensive services and opportunities offered to kids in high wealth communities, with the goal of successfully preparing kids for college and/or career.

With the help of research by Duke University’s Children’s Environmental Health Initiative, risk factors for various communities were assessed and East Durham was identified as one of the most distressed neighborhoods in the area. A 120-block area of East Durham was later selected as the target area of EDCI, also known as the EDCI zone.

In 2009, EDCI was launched with a trip to the Harlem Children’s Zone, planning activities, seed grants and a visit to Durham by Paul Tough. Community forums were conducted to get feedback from East Durham residents and leaders. One of the most important community forums was a “kitchen table” conversation in October 2009, attended by over 100 residents and community leaders. Community members spent time in small groups discussing a range of issues (Results of Community Conversations, October 2009). The concerns, hopes and possible solutions presented at this and other meetings formed the basis for EDCI’s initial programming.

EDCI began working with partners to implement services in the EDCI zone in 2010 and continues to move forward with planning and developing a successful, strategic initiative.