Children in Asheville, who live in housing development and are born into multi-generational poverty, face profound challenges in education that inhibit their ability learn in a traditional classroom.

Nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is known for its quirky charm and beautiful surroundings. Asheville’s vibrant art scene draws artists and visitors to explore its many galleries, festivals, and music venues and to find inspiration from the bordering natural attractions. However, beyond the city center, poverty in Asheville is profound, prevalent, and primarily concentrated in public housing developments. As of 2015, 21.8% of the population of Asheville, compared to 14.7% of the US population, lives in poverty. Income inequality and discriminatory public policies have disadvantaged multiple generations of families living in public housing districts- where poverty has become deeply ingrained and thus intransigent.

Families living in poverty are disproportionately of color and often face multiple forms of disadvantage. Central among them is the educational achievement gap, which exists along racial and class lines. Children in Asheville, who live in housing development and are born into multi-generational poverty, face profound challenges in education that inhibit their ability learn in a traditional classroom. Central among these challenges are undiagnosed or unaddressed learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia, which contribute to low literacy rates and force students to fall behind in school.

Due to high costs, resources to help children with dyslexia were previously reserved only for those from middle and upper class families. To address this pervasive injustice, Jen Ramming helped found OpenDoors of Asheville to break cycle of poverty with local kids as they try to reach their full potential.

Through advocacy and opportunities for education and enrichment, they provide personalized, long-term academic support to students coming from multi-generational poverty and opportunities that allow each child to be successful. By investing in children and supporting students who struggle to learn, OpenDoors works to eliminating the achievement gap and promote an equitable and strong community.

Ramming characterizes the students she works with at OpenDoors as orchids. They have the innate ability to bloom and are motivated to grow and learn, but require the proper care and attention. OpenDoors of Asheville serves students through a multi-tier system.

The intensive Tier one programming prioritizes 50 students through individual care systems and Tier two programming serves approximately 100 students, who are on a waitlist for Tier one support, through enrichment activities. Finally, their community-level programming provides expansive support to neighborhoods and trainings to teachers and service providers. As a nexus of support in the community, OpenDoors collaborates with schools, professionals, and other organizations to broaden and strengthen their impact. Through their comprehensive efforts, OpenDoors has contributed to a 100% graduation rate with students in their program and, over-all, have served approximately 600 students.

Ramming believes that Asheville has the ability to eradicate the educational achievement gap. Asheville is already equipped with the essential resources and a committed population, but must work harder to pursue a concerted community approach to solving this problem. Children cannot learn without stable housing, adequate clothing and food, and dependable transportation. Ramming proposes that Asheville must recognize these needs as essential to all children and create an intentional network of support to ensure that these needs are universally met.

The city must acknowledge that the educational achievement gap adversely affects everyone and thus approach it with a community-wide commitment to investing in the future of all children. By replicating this model of compassion, Ramming believes that we can eradicate the achievement gap and begin to break the cycle of poverty throughout the US.

To expand services and program impact, OpenDoors requires facilities to train program tutors and mentors, access to further funding, and additional volunteers. New technology can increase their ability to get these resources and provide them with more efficient forms of communication. The students participating in OpenDoors almost universally have access to smart phones.

By leveraging this technology, OpenDoors can ensure that their students keep in better contact with their teacher, tutors, and mentors to more efficiently and consistently receive guidance and support.

Technology enabled communication can thus increase the positive impact of the OpenDoors program in Asheville and more effectively enable the OpenDoors model to be replicated in communities around the country.