Sarad Davenport directs City of Promise, an organization focused on improving outcomes in Charlottesville's Westhaven, 10th and Page and Starr Hill neighborhoods. Credit: Credit: Ryan M. Kelly, The Daily Progress

It’s 10 a.m. and four City of Promise staff members already are at work on a day that won’t start for another five to six hours, when students are released from school.

Huddled around a conference table, Sarad Davenport and his City of Promise team — who work to improve outcomes for children in Charlottesville’s Westhaven, 10th and Page and Starr Hill neighborhoods — are finalizing enrollment for karate and computer clubs.

Then it’s an update on a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Now they’re planning for meetings with college-bound seniors before a brief update on a filmmaking program.

“I see City of Promise in a lot of ways as a translator, a bridge builder, a connector,” said Davenport, the group’s director. “We see our job as eliminating barriers to success.”

Established locally in 2011-12 as a result of conversations during Charlottesville’s Dialogue on Race, City of Promise is part of the national Promise Neighborhood program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Education. The program awards place-based grants to agencies that work to better the lives of individuals in under-resourced communities.

Currently, City of Promise serves about 230 youths ages 0 to 22, and the initiative focuses on three areas: academics, youth development and health and wellness.

Davenport said that after speaking with families in the three neighborhoods, he and his staff noticed a general sense of mistrust toward the greater community. That mistrust, they said, centered on the razing of the Vinegar Hill neighborhood and Charlottesville’s resistance to integration.

“So the question is, how do we restore a sense of trust between the people in neighborhoods and also practitioners, systems and institutions,” Davenport said.

To build trust, Davenport and his team are working with youth to build a culture of achievement. City of Promise coordinates tutors and runs afterschool programs, and it also hired a case manager who is working with middle and high school students because of findings that these students were losing interest in school.

“We found that in middle school, particularly our young ladies, and in high school our young men, were checking out, and we had to figure out a way to get them a comprehensive resource that would work with them,” Davenport said.

With respect to the afterschool programs, they’re helping both students and teachers.

“If kids are in a structured environment when they’re outside of school, when they come back to school there’s less work that the teacher has to do to [return to] routines and procedures,” Davenport said. “Then you can get back into content, and that translates into better outcomes.”

And the outcomes are improving.

Elementary school math students are on their way to closing the achievement gap.

In 2013, 57 percent of City of Promise students passed their math Standards of Learning exams, compared with 74 percent of all other students. In 2014, 66.7 percent of City of Promise students passed, compared with 72 percent of all other students.

“This means that there is no statistical difference with regards to all other students’ test scores, but there’s a dramatic difference between City of Promise kids’ test scores,” Davenport said.

At Charlottesville High School last year, City of Promise students outperformed the average for all other students on their reading exams with an 87.5 percent pass rate.

The graduation rate among City of Promise students is up 44 percent from 2013, and all of those students earned standard or advanced diplomas.

The college-bound rate has increased, too. All seven members of this year’s senior class plan to continue to post-secondary education of some type, which is up 20 percent from last year.

“What this means is not that every kid is going to necessarily go, but it means that we have worked to change the culture of achievement and the kids are saying now, ‘I want to do more,’” Davenport said.

Tykeisha Hill, a sophomore at Charlottesville High, said she would like to play softball in college, and said City of Promise has helped her in and out of school.

“They’ve taken me on college visits, gotten me tutors and my grades have gone up,” Hill said. “And I feel like I’m more a part of the community now.”

Jamil Fitch-Warfield, also a CHS sophomore, said her community needs City of Promise.

“The mentors and programs are great because there are a lot of kids who need a lot guidance,” Fitch-Warfield said.

Reflecting on the initiative, Davenport, a Charlottesville native, said he can relate to these young people.

“Because I had a similar experience as many of these kids and because I was able to go on, matriculate through higher education and get a master’s degree, what it tells me is that potential is inherent, and that there needs to be people around to cultivate this potential,” Davenport said.

“And when we see children with these issues, our job is not to ask what is wrong with them, but to ask what happened to them, and how we can help them overcome their obstacles so they can live up to their potential,” he said.