Ready for School, Ready for Life

The Duke Endowment is supporting a comprehensive 10-year strategy to improve and equalize opportunity in Guilford County, N.C., by making large, targeted investments in young children and their caregivers.


Every child deserves an equal opportunity to succeed in school and in life. However, research shows that children born to wealthy families tend to become wealthy adults, while those born to poor families tend to remain poor. 

One community offering a stark illustration of this fact is North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad region, where children of families at the bottom of the economic ladder stand less than a 5 percent chance of rising to the top as adults — one of the worst rates of upward mobility in America. 

About 6,000 children are born in Guilford County each year, and about half start life in poverty. Only 38 percent of the class of 2010 completed a college degree within six years of high school graduation. 

These low rates of educational attainment in adulthood are rooted in early childhood. Guilford County students achieve low rates of kindergarten readiness (45 percent) and 3rd grade reading proficiency (47 percent), which have been shown to predict later achievement and career outcomes. Racial achievement gaps in early literacy stretch as wide as 30 percentage points. Decades of longitudinal research suggest that these low, unequal rates can be attributed to disjointed, underdeveloped early care and education systems.

Ready for School, Ready for Life


Believing that every child deserves an equal chance to thrive as an adult, The Duke Endowment is advancing a 10-year strategy that uses large, targeted investments in early childhood to enhance and equalize opportunities for better life outcomes in Guilford County, a major population center of the Triad. 

Spearheaded by the Endowment, Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) is an organization helping to lead the fight for better early childhood outcomes in Guilford County. The Endowment selected Guilford for this investment because of its rich history of early childhood innovation and collaboration, Ready Ready’s work galvanizing the community on behalf of young children, and the presence of programs with strong evidence of improving child and caregiver well-being. Guilford’s diverse population and demographics also make it an ideal place to scale and pattern solutions that could be applied in other communities across the state and nation. 

Ready Ready aims to confront problems early in life, when children’s brains develop most rapidly. It seeks to improve individual and population-level outcomes for about 55,000 children, prenatally through age 8, across five key areas: 

  1. Planned and well-timed pregnancies 
  2. Healthy births
  3. On-track infant and toddler development at 12, 24 and 36 months 
  4. School readiness at kindergarten 
  5. Success by third grade

Place-based Grantmaking:
A philanthropic concept that pursues lasting social change at the community level by aligning local resources and programs into a cohesive system.

Hear from Meka Sales, Director of Special Initiatives at The Duke Endowment, on why place matters in Guilford County, North Carolina.

The work is rooted in the science of child development, which suggests virtually every child can succeed if specific fundamental needs are met at crucial developmental points. By expanding evidence-based programs and weaving disjointed resources into one seamless system of care, Ready Ready aims to ensure those critical developmental needs are met. 

Ready Ready represents the Endowment’s largest foray into place-based” grantmaking, a philanthropic concept that pursues lasting social change at the community level by aligning local resources and programs into a cohesive system. 

Previously, the Endowment has supported the Northside Initiative in Spartanburg, S.C., and the Renaissance West Community Initiative in Charlotte, N.C. Both of these place-based efforts follow the Purpose Built Communities model, which aims to revitalize struggling urban neighborhoods by supplying high-quality affordable housing, a cradle-to-college education pipeline and community wellness programs. 

Place-based grantmaking is one strand of the Endowment’s organization-wide emphasis on helping children ages 0 to 8.


Guilford County, North Carolina

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  • To deliver new services, 17 OB/GYN and pediatric sites with 250 providers reaching 45,000 children and caregivers have been recruited
  • Approximately 23,000 children and caregivers are being served through an evidence-based program or service
  • Thirteen Guilford County programs received continuous quality improvement coaching
  • A data system has been built to support the delivery of prenatal and pediatric services
  • Ready for School, Ready for Life has established a 31-member Board of Directors comprised of key community leaders and has increased staff from 3 to 14 full-time equivalent positions

Lessons Learned

  • Developing inclusive community processes takes more time than anticipated, but authentically engaging diverse perspectives has proven to be extremely valuable. 
  • Developing new technologies to support service delivery to children and families is a new area of work for us and our nonprofit partners. We’ve had to reach outside of our normal channels to seek technical support and expertise to make progress.
  • Our intention to rigorously evaluate a multifaceted and complex community-wide initiative has proved to be a daunting task, requiring us to revisit our original plans and get comfortable with making needed adjustments.
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