• Breaking through. Building up.

    Training in high-wage industries empowers GCS parents to build wealth and end the cycle of poverty. 

  • When families struggle, students struggle. In Guilford County, where 69 percent of students live in poverty, families are coping with significant challenges. 

    Many families work two or three jobs, and the cascading effects threaten the academic success of their children. They want to provide a stable household, to be home at night for dinner together and help their children prepare for the next day. Unfortunately, poverty steals that opportunity, as some adult family members work upwards of 90 hours a week to stay afloat.

    Communities across the country struggle to solve this complex problem. Guilford County Schools (GCS) believes it has found a new way to support students whose families are caught in the cycle of low-wage jobs: a pathway to high-skill, high-wage careers through the Dual Generation Workforce Initiative (DGWI). 

    While workforce development programs are common, GCS offers a newer strategy: a dual-generation approach that addresses generational poverty by aligning services for children with services for their families.

    The idea blossomed as a community task force under the leadership of now-superintendent Dr. Whitney Oakley strategized ways to invest Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds — federal dollars for public schools in the wake of the pandemic. Administrators asked families, principals and pastors what families need.

    Over and over, we heard the same thing: Families can't come to our programming because they're working two or three jobs,” says Dr. Rebecca Kaye, GCS senior advisor to the superintendent.

    It was a lightbulb moment for Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Eboni Chillis. The problem wasn’t meeting times; it was the low-wage work that demands multiple jobs. What if families could become certified in high-skill, high-wage jobs? Adults could earn more money, work fewer jobs, embark on a career and begin to build the kind of generational wealth that changes the trajectory for their children.

    We’re piloting something that could change the lives of our families and get to the heart of the income inequality that we know impacts kids’ ability to succeed in school,” Kaye says.

    Kaye, Chillis and their GCS colleagues got to work launching DGWI by planning a certification program in information technology, a pathway to the booming tech sector. But they needed to act quickly: ESSER funds expire in September 2024, and GCS wants to serve as many families as possible. By running two cohorts back to back, the district could set up dozens of participants for in-demand jobs within months.

    “We believe that investing in parents and families will have long-term impacts in our community. And the return on that investment is going to be generational,” Kaye says. “This is not just about today’s paycheck; it’s about the long-term health, education and life outcomes for our children.”

    First, GCS hosted a conversation with potential partners to explore ways to share resources. The district has a direct line to families, especially through the Guilford Parent Academy it established 12 years ago to provide resources, connections and workshops to families. GCS also has state-of-the-art tech classrooms inside its new Signature Career Academies. For specialized instruction, it enlisted CompTIA, the world’s leading provider of IT certification training. It also pulled in GuilfordWorks, the local workforce development arm of county government, to assist with workforce readiness and placement. 

    “We touched a nerve.”

    GCS had only a few days to spread the word to parents (especially those in Title I schools), establish cohorts, and kick off the first session. What happened next spoke volumes: More than 700 people signed up for information sessions and 144 applied for one of 40 spaces.

    “My a-ha moment was that we touched a nerve in our community. We found something that was a true unmet need and we met it,” Kaye says. 

    The certification requires significant commitment: participants attend three-hour classes five nights a week for 12 weeks. To support them, GCS leaned on GuilfordWorks to connect job seekers with resources like childcare, transportation, resume writing and placement. 

    The district also pulled in Guilford Technical Community College as a partner to give participants options to advance their new career path.

    GCS also began planning how to continue and expand DGWI to respond to community requests for certifications in other in-demand fields like nursing and truck driving. 

    At each graduation, children sat with their moms, with their grandma, with their dad, and watched them transition into a career that will make a huge difference for their family. They were changed by the investment that their parents made in themselves — and they were proud. 

    “We knew going in that parents would be able to get a better job, make more money and have better health insurance,” Kaye says. “But I don't know that we could have predicted the ways in which we’re providing an opportunity for families to feel differently about who they are.”