All American City application: Focus on Ignite Davie

Published 10:50 am Thursday, May 18, 2023

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 By Jeanna Baxter White

Word Master Media Group

Everyone who lives in Davie County knows what a special place it is. Soon other communities around the country will know it as well. Last month, the National Civic League selected Davie County as a finalist for this year’s All-America City Award. We will now compete against 19 other communities in Denver, Colo., June 9-11.

This year’s theme is “Creating Thriving Communities through Youth Engagement.” The 2023 award seeks to identify communities that are breaking down barriers to meaningful youth participation and enacting programs that will improve the quality of life for youth and, by extension, all members of the community. Davie County’s application focuses on youth programs that build the civic capacity of young people, increase job readiness and employment opportunities and provide leadership opportunities.

This is the third in a series of articles sharing a different section of Davie County’s All-America City Award application. While the application was compiled by a team of county and municipal representatives and community leaders, the story is about all of us. As you read, you will revel in Davie County’s accomplishments and learn more about innovative programs in your own backyard. Take a bow Davie County; you have much to be proud of.  

PART III: Describe Three Community-Driven Projects or Programs

Describe your best projects or programs that have a compelling community-wide vision and have resulted in significant local impact and action planning within the past five years. Since the theme this year focuses on youth engagement, we opted to submit all powerful youth-related programs. These programs were evaluated based on a shared vision, civic engagement, inclusiveness and equity, collaboration, innovation, and impact. This week focuses on IGNITE DAVIE.


It is common knowledge that education and workforce training are two of the most critical factors in an individual’s and a community’s economic success. Studies consistently show that college graduates earn more over their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. Trends suggest that 67% of all jobs in North Carolina will require some education and training beyond high school. In Davie County, less than 33% of our high school graduates (age 25-64) continue their education and actually earn an associate degree or higher. Davie County’s postsecondary attainment and completion rates indicate many of our students do not have the requisite qualifications to compete in the modern workforce. As a result, there is a significant misalignment between our workforce needs and capabilities. Therefore, enhancing educational opportunities has a multiplier effect that positively influences outcomes for individuals, businesses, and the community.

Education and workforce development are almost universally highly valued in communities. The 2017 Bermuda Run Comprehensive Plan, 2018 Davie County Strategic Plan, 2018 Davie County Economic Development Plan, 2019 Mocksville Comprehensive Plan, as well as the Davie County Schools and DDCC Strategic Plans, all share common goals tied to education that include increasing postsecondary participation for youth and providing workforce development opportunities for youth and young adults. These plans represent the views and input of diverse stakeholders, including youth. The cost and competition for limited scholarship funds are two of the most persistent roadblocks to higher education and vocational training.

Those facts raised a few profound questions:

What if Davie County could put education at the center of our community and our students had the opportunity to continue their education beyond high school graduation without incurring substantial student loan debt?

What if our students earned a degree or certification, providing them with the right education, skills, and training to obtain a career in the modern workforce?

And what if high-demand, high-paying careers could be found right here in our own community, further positioning Davie County as a highly desirable place to live and work?

Now imagine the impact all of this would have on the lives of our students and their families. Imagine the effect it would have on the vitality of our community, the success of our employers, and the prosperity of our future generations!

In 2016, the Davie County Chamber of Commerce discussed the dream of a college promise program, but like many big ideas, it needed a champion to move it forward. However, it was not a non-profit, business, or government entity that rose to carry the banner. Zach Wright, a private resident, took advantage of the “open door” policy of DDCC President Dr. Darrin Hartness to start a frank conversation about such a program for Davie County students. The initial stakeholder group included representatives from several local organizations, including the County of Davie, DDCC, Davie County Economic Development Commission, DavieCONNECT, Davie County SchoolsDavie Community Foundation, Phil Fuller, and Zach Wright. The group quickly embraced the idea, and a subcommittee was formed to evaluate the feasibility of launching a program in Davie County.

Following several meetings and much research, the group created the IGNITE DAVIE College Promise program.

The goals of the initiative are to:

  • Improve high school graduation rates
  • Increase post-secondary attainment & completion rates
  • Strengthen our workforce and ensure alignment with business & industry needs
  • Attract young families to our county
  • Increase the tax base
  • Create a competitive advantage

With the program clearly defined, the founding partners were quick to kick off the fundraising efforts with their financial commitments toward an endowment to make it permanent. When the Davie Chamber, United Way, Towns of Bermuda Run and Mocksville, and the Mebane Foundation joined the initiative, it was clear that IGNITE DAVIE had become a cross-sector community collaboration and would be transformative for all in Davie County. Funders include businesses, foundations, and private individuals of all socio-economic backgrounds. To date, IGNITE DAVIE has received 951 gifts representing two-thirds of the $3,000,000 needed to fund the program in perpetuity.  While most donations are one-time or multi-year commitments, several individual supporters and employees from Davie County and Davie County Schools contribute monthly.  One community member requested that gifts for her 90th birthday be given to IGNITE DAVIE.

IGNITE DAVIE is a “place-based scholarship,” meaning it is not based on financial need or academic merit but on living in Davie County.  It is for all students who live in Davie County and graduate from our public high school or a registered home school. Any student who desires to attend DDCC is given the opportunity. The percentage of scholarship awarded is based upon the number of school years the student resides in Davie County.

Last year, 25% of Davie High’s graduating class enrolled at DDCC through IGNITE DAVIE. To meet the needs of additional students, IGNITE DAVIE will expand this fall to include four short-term training programs: HVAC, Electrical, Nursing Assistant 1, and Phlebotomy.  They are designed to support the students who want or need to join the workforce right after graduation by offering them the ability to work and go to school part-time to learn the marketable skills local employers seek.

Since Short Term Training programs are not covered by traditional financial aid, including them in the IGNITE DAVIE program allows us to help more students secure a solid career path.

IGNITE DAVIE began with the graduating class of 2020 and:

  • Covers in-state tuition and required fees to attend DDCC after all financial aid or other scholarships have been applied
  • Provides up to $250 per semester for textbooks
  • Covers the cost of summer courses for programs that require enrollment through the summer term

To be eligible, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Reside in Davie County with the award prorated based on continuous enrollment in a Davie County school
  • Graduate from a high school or a registered homeschool program in Davie County, beginning with the Class of 2020
  • Complete the IGNITE DAVIE application, the FAFSA application, the DDCC application, and apply for Davie Community Foundation or designated DDCC short-term training scholarships.
  • Enroll full-time in a DDCC curriculum program (certificate, diploma, or degree). Beginning in Fall 2023, four part-time short-term programs will also be eligible.
  • Maintain a minimum 2.0 college GPA and successfully complete at least 75% of credit hours attempted each semester for continued eligibility (no minimum high school GPA required)
  • Use the award within three years of high school graduation
  • Participate in “Career Connections” through career readiness training and experiences with local businesses and industry each year
  • Volunteer in the community
  • Statistics from the first semester (2020) were encouraging:
  • 59 of the 71 (83%) remained eligible after their first semester
  • 9 of the 59 completed the fall semester with a GPA of 4.0
  • The average GPA for those who remained eligible was 3.1 (higher than the average GPA for all fall students)
  • Statistics from the most recently completed semester (Fall 2022) were reaffirming:
  • 134 of the 158 students successfully completed the semester (85% Success Rate)
  • 3 Students Graduated in December 2022
  • 31 students were named to the Dean’s List for the Fall 2022 Semester, of which 12 had a GPA of 4.0

While IGNITE DAVIE has not moved the needle for the DCHS graduation rate, which has remained at 87% since the program began, we are seeing some very promising results.

The 239 students who have participated in the IGNITE DAVIE program from 2020-2022, for the most part, represent the greater student body population the program serves, as reflected in the table below. However, there are several data points and one issue with data collection that should be noted.

Race / Ethnicity Davie County Schools IGNITE DAVIE
White 73.3% 67.4%
African American 6.6% 2.5%
Hispanic 13.8% 18.4%
Asian 0.9% 1.3%
Multi-Racial 5.1% 2.1%
Other 0.3% 0.0%
Unknown 0% 8.3%


White and African-American students are underrepresented by 5.9% and 4.1%, respectively. In comparison, Hispanic students are overrepresented by 4.6%. However, with 8.3% of the participants listed as “unknown” due to inadequate data collection at the beginning of the program, it is difficult to draw conclusions. Moving forward, there will be more emphasis on consistently collecting this data.

The IGNITE DAVIE student population is 53.5% female (52% – High School) and 46.5% male (48% – High School). This is encouraging for two reasons. First, it shows that IGNITE DAVIE consistently serves students regardless of gender. While females are slightly overrepresented in the IGNITE DAVIE population, the disparity is much less pronounced than the national trend of 60% female enrollment in community college opposed to only 40% male enrollment. Student need is another interesting data point. Forty-Seven percent of IGNITE DAVIE participants qualified for financial aid, while 27% of the high school population was considered “needy” based on receiving free or reduced lunch. While not perfect comparison points, it does suggest a higher rate of access offered by IGNITE DAVIE for financially challenged students and their families.

Another important area of success to measure is completion. The recognized standard of attainment is graduation with a certificate or degree in two, three, or four years. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2022 that only 13% of community college students attain this goal in 2 years, 22% in three years, and 28% in four years. The first graduating class of IGNITE DAVIE attained a 33% completion rate by the end of the Fall 2022 semester (2 Years). More graduations/certificate completions are expected in Spring 2023; however, our participants already far exceed national trends. The graduating class has taken several paths to a successful life, including transferring to a four-year college, bringing the skills they acquired through a certificate program to Davie County businesses (including becoming an instructor for DDCC), or leaving Davie County to pursue a career.

IGNITE DAVIE is considering additional performance metrics as the program matures. Lessons learned include ensuring students complete waivers so that the program has access to grades, adding a reporting requirement at completion or withdrawal to collect additional information, and ensuring accurate participant demographic information is captured.

IGNITE DAVIE offers a compelling model for job training and education in the State of North Carolina. Other communities have reached out to us to start a dialogue about how they can replicate the program. Education NC (EdNC), which reports on trends, issues, and challenges related to education, featured the program, and PBS recently taped a special broadcast featuring IGNITE DAVIE. Funding for the program is an excellent use of resources and is shared across the entire community rather than being funded solely through tax dollars.

Statistics can only tell you so much about any program. True change is almost always felt at the individual level, so we’d like to leave you with comments from two young people who benefited from IGNITE DAVIE.  

Cassidy Kluttz (AA) stated, “IGNITE DAVIE has given me the freedom to explore what I want to do and where I want to go with my life without having to worry about money.”

Merritt Killian (AS) received his Associate of Science from DDCC and is now attending NC State University to become a doctor.  “I would enroll in IGNITE DAVIE 100 times over again! Many students couldn’t afford to continue their education without its financial benefits. IGNITE DAVIE provides many opportunities for students like me to pursue education after high school, whether that be a technical or a transfer degree. I was very fortunate to be able to be a part of this program.”

There are many student success stories confirming that IGNITE DAVIE is playing an instrumental role in preparing students for their future careers by providing them with the opportunity for more education and training without incurring student debt.  Our community shares in their success with access to a well-trained talent pipeline ready to meet the needs of our business and industry. IGNITE DAVIE is clearly impacting the vitality of our community, the success of our employers, and the prosperity of our future generations!

The final section of the All-America City application highlighted programs that will improve the quality of life for youth and, by extension, all members of the community. The next article will focus on Davie Works, a partnership developed in Davie County to prepare youth for life after high school.