There are many communities in the US with school systems working to make improvements so that our Nation’s children will be able to compete in the global market.  No one would deny that our beloved Durham has certainly encountered challenges that mimic other parts of the country when it comes to public education.  I see it first-hand here at the Durham Chamber, through our economic development work.   Companies considering relocating to our region come here for many reasons, one of which is the  talent coming out of our universities like North Carolina Central, Duke, NC State, and UNC.  However, public schools is often a concern for these companies investing in our community, as the pipeline for education is vital for these businesses.

It’s true we have excellent  schools in Durham, but public education as a whole requires more work.  Unfortunately, what people don’t often see are the small shifts that are moving us closer to our ideal.  For instance, last year, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce was able to facilitate a partnership between Durham Public Schools (DPS) and one of the start-up companies that we recruited to Durham – Urban Planet Mobile (UPM).  UPM patented and deploys mobile technology for the purpose of educating people all over the world.  Yep, and they are right here in Durham! 

UPM and DPS entered into a partnership to use cell phones to provide vocabulary words to DPS 11th graders.   The SAT ReMix program is designed to help students prepare for their SAT exams and is just one of the out-of-the-box learning initiatives possible through creative community collaboration. This investment in our future workforce has had great success!

Another organization that is making a profound investment in public education is the YMCA.  I was recently recruited to help raise funds for the YMCA’s We Build People campaign, by a neighbor and friend, Erin Gasch, Director of Alumni Relations at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.  Although I’m a long-time member of the YMCA, I was disturbed to learn some sobering statistics about our Durham students.  For instance, 42% of Durham’s students are academically behind by 5th grade;  1 out of 3 Durham high school students don’t  graduate;  and a one year increase in average years of schooling reduces crime rates by almost 30%. 

The YMCA offers several programs that work to address these issues, among them the Y-Learning Tutor & Homework Assistance Program which helps kids catch up academically.  The results have been astounding! In fact, 92% of Y-Learning students pass their End of Grade (EOG) test and 29% not only catch up, but get ahead.  These programs are located where the students can be accessed easily; places like Oxford Manor, a public housing development in northeast Durham, and several elementary schools.

When people ask me why I love Durham I tell them the Bull City has a sense of community spirit that eclipses every place I have ever lived.   I truly believe people crave this from their communities, certainly true in my case, and in Durham we make it look natural — perhaps because it is natural.   I encourage anyone reading this post to find an organization and get involved.  The business community does it every day, and there are so many opportunities awaiting you.  If you aren’t sure where you’d like to invest your time and talent – visit The Volunteer Center.  They can help you find an organization that matches your passion, and in the end will help make Durham even better.

So, what’s your investment in Durham?

Adrian Brown
Chamber Connection Broker, Durham Enthusiast, Downtown Resident