In addition to a good education, strong social relationships are also essential for a child’s upward economic mobility. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and The Propel School are especially successful at educating their students in part because they work to improve their students’ social capital.

“Social capital” refers to the assets one gains from connections with family, neighborhood groups, churches, clubs, and other social influences that affect a person’s life and mobility. When it comes to boosting economic mobility, “social capital is surely the most important,” according to Stuart Butler, Distinguished Fellow and Director of the Center for Policy Innovation at The Heritage Foundation. Recent studies agree that the greatest influencers of economic mobility are social capital and family structure.

Heritage Research Assistant Mary Clare Reim has analyzed two charter schools that have successfully built social capital for their students, creating an environment of opportunity.

The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), Washington, D.C.

KIPP DC extends its mission beyond the classroom through community partnerships. For example, the school partnered with a nonprofit dental clinic that provides free health care and hygiene education for students, their families, and anyone in the surrounding community. This community-run clinic brought the neighborhood together around a positive mission and in turn changed a venue previously used by drug dealers into a model for building strong social capital.

KIPP DC also offers safe after-school activities such as free dance classes that aim to transform their community into a place encouraging childhood development and success, rather than crime.

Because KIPP DC realizes the importance of creating a safe and comfortable environment for students to learn, the school works closely with local police to clean up the neighborhood and eliminate drug and gang violence from the surrounding areas.

The Propel School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Similarly, The Propel School in Pittsburgh builds social capital by partnering with local banks to start college savings accounts for each of their students through a program called Fund My Future. When students and families save at an early age, the cost of college will not likely prohibit a student from seeking a higher education. The Fund My Future program also offers a raffle ticket for every deposit. Students are more inclined to save when they can win prizes by doing so. On “Bank Days,” the school invites local banks to teach students and parents about the importance of saving. A study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project shows a habit of saving strongly increases a child’s chances for upward mobility.

By partnering with local banks to create the Fund My Future Program, the Propel School makes a lasting impression on its students that will increase their chances of upward economic mobility. Like KIPP, the strong social capital built in communities though the work of these schools directly benefits low-income students by enhancing their opportunities.

The success of these two schools is evident. The Propel School was named the top performing charter school in the nation. Forty percent of students earn four-year college degrees after finishing the 8th grade at a KIPP program. Not only is this 7 percent above the national average, but it is also four times the rate for students from low-income families nationwide.

Through creation of social capital, every student can have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Charter schools in low-income communities are particularly well placed to facilitate this phenomenon.

Leo Nayfeld is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.