New Partner

City Year tutoring program targeted for Memphis, thanks to $150k philanthropic donation

PHOTO: City Year
City Year volunteers participate in a group training as part of their preparation for working with students in urban, high-poverty communities.

An anonymous local philanthropist has pledged $150,000 to place dozens of AmeriCorps volunteers as tutors in Memphis’ worst-performing schools, according to Mayor A C Wharton’s office.

The preliminary donation — contingent upon two years of training, fundraising and recruitment — will make Memphis one of two new cities eligible to participate in the national City Year program beginning in 2017. Currently, the program is in 25 cities.

“We have wanted to bring City Year to Memphis for several years now,” said Wharton said in a statement released late last week. “City Year will have an incredible impact on our students.”

City Year, an education-focused nonprofit organization founded in 1988 and part of the AmeriCorps service network, has gained notoriety for its ability to cut down on student absenteeism and boost graduation rates, both identified as needs in Memphis by administrators with Shelby County Schools.

The donation comes as local school leaders seek to leverage investments from outside organizations to improve academic outcomes amid large budget cuts in a city where more than a fifth of residents don’t have a high school diploma and poverty is a significant issue. Many students drop out because they get discouraged after falling several grade levels; others drop out to take full-time jobs.

The AmeriCorps volunteers will be trained on how to engage with vulnerable youth, intervene academically when they fall behind, and help students navigate personal hurdles. They will be placed in classrooms in grades 3-9 at schools that academically rank in the state’s bottom 5 percent and will work with students one-on-one or in small groups.

AmeriCorps members are usually recent high school or college graduates who have taken a year between school and work to give back to a community in need. AmeriCorps provides volunteers with a nominal living stipend and money to pay for educational expenses. In Memphis, AmeriCorps provides volunteers to nonprofit organizations and urban revitalization projects through its Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) and National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) programs.

Last year, City Year dispatched 2,700 corps members to serve 150,000 students at 242 schools.

The program has effectively decreased student absenteeism and suspension, as well as the number of students failing in English and math classes, according to a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University and Communities In Schools.

Memphis already has several ongoing mentor and tutor programs. In May, millionaire commodities trader and philanthropist Charlie McVean donated $1 million to place 145 University of Memphis students in two Memphis high schools as in-class tutors beginning this school year. 

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.