by Tori Hamby

CHARLOTTE – With downsized budgets and limited cash, many Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools have been forced to stretch their resources. But others, such as Huntersville’s Torrence Creek Elementary, are partnering with schools to share resources and give a helping hand.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools began SchoolMates, then called a “sister schools” program, about 15 years ago to help schools share volunteers and academic resources and encourage collaboration, program coordinator Ana Brown said. Schools of all sizes, grade levels or socioeconomic statuses may partner in any way that they choose.

“Every partnership is different,” Brown said. “We have schools that share PTA support. We have one school that has a wonderful PTA that partners up with a school that struggles to form a PTA board. We have schools that collect and share books with other schools. It’s really a give-and-take partnership.”

About 60 schools participated in this year’s SchoolMates program, including Huntersville Elementary, which partnered with Statesville Road Elementary. Some elementary schools like Huntersville and Torrence Creek elementaries choose to partner with other elementary schools, while high schools, such as Ardrey Kell in south Charlotte, partner with elementary or middle schools.

“We have discovered that one of our biggest resources with our school-to-school partnerships is our students,” Brown said. “High school students are able to tutor students at the elementary level and are able to drive themselves to and from the school.”

Torrence Creek Elementary began partnering with Nathaniel Alexander Elementary, a federally designated Title I school in the University City area, earlier this school year, said Pam Dolaher, a Torrence Creek Parent-Teacher Association member and SchoolMates coordinator. Torrence Creek started with the program five years ago when it partnered with Lincoln Heights Elementary School in northwest Charlotte, which shut its doors at end of the last school year.

When Torrence Creek went looking for a new partner school, Nathaniel Alexander proved to be the perfect fit, Dolaher said.

“To have a successful partnership, you really have to have the buy-in from both sides,” Dolaher said. “We just jumped on it and they jumped on it, and both sides were so excited.”

Torrence Creek routinely collects and donates food items to be distributed to a handful of needy students at Nathaniel Elementary. And because of its percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches, Nathaniel Alexander’s staff is eligible for extra professional development opportunities that it plans to share with Torrence Creek faculty and staff.

The schools also have held a basketball game that pitted staff members of both schools against each other.

“It’s a great, positive thing,” Dolaher said. “It’s such a win for everyone. It’s one of those initiatives where you just can’t go wrong.”

Want to know more?

To find out more about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools SchoolMates program or to find information about starting a SchoolMates program at your own school, call Ana Brown at 980-343-0474 or email Pam Dolaher at