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Family Success Alliance aims to close the achievement gap

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The opportunity gap in schools can begin as soon as kindergarten. 

Children below the poverty line are placed at a distinct disadvantage upon the start of their educational career. The Family Success Alliance is an organization that is dedicated to closing that gap and building wealth in Orange County communities. 

Childhood poverty was identified as a priority in Orange County three years ago. 

Coby Jansen Austin, the Alliance’s director or program and policy, said many people do not realize childhood poverty is a concern because Chapel Hill is a fairly wealthy area, but it has a lot of inequity. 

“Kindergarten readiness is a top priority,” Austin said. “One of the first things we did as Family Success Alliance was to launch a kindergarten readiness program partnership with Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill and Carrboro schools.” 

Austin said the opportunity gap begins before children enter schools, so FSA designed a 4-week summer program to give children a leg up as they enter kindergarten. The results prove their program's effectiveness. 

“We’ve seen a number of really important benefits for kids, both cognitively and in different skills, attention, math and literacy,” Austin said. 

The Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost wanted to get involved with a local service organization to address poverty issues in Orange County back in May of 2016. They decided to partner with FSA, and the alliance now works closely with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

Margaret Burchinal, a senior research scientist at the Institute, examines and evaluates many of FSA’s programs. The Institute's research helps the FSA make the necessary changes to better their programs.

“Evaluators at UNC work to understand what is working and what could be adapted to ensure the program was providing high quality services to families involved," Burchinal said.

With around 20 percent of families in Chapel Hill below the poverty line and one of the largest achievement gaps in the area, FSA has focused on Orange County for a reason. It hopes to not only help close the achievement gap but build up the area itself. 

“It is really important that programs like the Family Success Alliance try to ensure that all children, not just advantaged children, can exceed in school and do well,” Burchinal said. 

FSA has also shown a desire to know about the health of the children it serves, and thus has created a partnership with UNC Department of Pediatrics, which evaluates the baseline health of children enrolled in FSA. 

Kori Flower, associate professor of pediatrics, said the FSA wants to ensure the interventions they design are as effective as possible for the children and their families.

“Family Success Alliance is a project that is occurring very close to the University,” Flower said. “These are children who have great potential to be contributors within this community and even beyond.”

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