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.