With the 2023-24 school year and August’s special session around the corner, thousands of students, families, and teachers are facing challenges from the punitive Third Grade Retention law that took effect this year. To share information and gather stories, Stand for Children, MICAH, and Momentum Memphis are participating in Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM)’s #MoreThanATest Day of Action with a canvass on Saturday, July 15.

We demand that the third-grade retention law be placed as a priority at the legislative special session this summer. Retention decisions should be determined by those that know our students best and should consider their entire academic performance, instead of basing the decision on a single standardized test. This Saturday, we will hear from teachers, parents, and students about the effects of this retention law.

We repeat: our students are so much more than a test!

Recently, Stand members teamed up with Memphis for All to do vaccine outreach in Frayser. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact Memphis and Shelby County, it’s important to make sure that all members of our community are informed about their eligibility and options for vaccination.  The digital divide that we often refer to extends beyond the classroom; families that don’t have computers or internet access at home may have a more difficult time accessing all kinds of resources and information.  So, we hit the streets to meet people where they are.

Stand members went door-to-door in the Raleigh-Frayser area, connecting with residents, handing out flyers, and sharing their own vaccination experiences.  It was a great opportunity to strengthen relationships while addressing concerns about the COVID vaccines.  Stand Outreach Coordinator Regina Clarke spoke with Fox 13 about the importance of this kind of community engagement. Watch the video here

Are you interested in community activities like this?  Join our next Momentum Memphis Task Force meeting to find out ways to get involved!

On Thursday, I attended Chalkbeat’s listening session at the Benjamin Hooks Library along with other Stand members. The session gave teachers, parents, and community members an opportunity to discuss early childhood literacy, quality pre-k and other issues affecting K-3 students. Questions were provided to guide each table discussion while Chalkbeat journalists listened in to hear the concerns and stories of educators and community members.

While this event was meant as a way to gain ideas for future Chalkbeat reporting, it also provided a chance for Stand members to connect with the community. Attending the listening tour provided insight into how our community feels about the status of early childhood literacy of Memphis youth and how quality pre-k is essential to increase early literacy rates and students’ overall academic success later on.

It was refreshing to hear parents voice questions and opinions about the need for a system that works for all children and what steps should be taken to get there. Questions from “What is pre-k?” to those pertaining to the state’s definition of quality pre-k, income levels, and factors that determine a child’s eligibility for pre-k, were all welcomed without judgment.  

As the Communications and Community Engagement Manager for Stand Tennessee, this event provided me with a new perspective on the types of community events we could host in the future to hear more from you about the education issues that you care about most. If you have any ideas or topics that we should consider for townhalls, please email me at [email protected].

I look forward to hearing your recommendations!  

Research has shown that students who complete their freshman year on track — earning at least a quarter of the credits needed for graduation with no more than one “F” in a core course — are four times more likely to graduate on time than their off-track peersIn fact, freshmen success is more predictive of high school graduation than race, ethnicity, poverty level, and previous test scores combined. By focusing on the academic success of ninth-grade students, we can substantially increase graduation rates in our community. 

That’s why we established the Memphis Freshman Success Network (FSN), first as a pilot project in 2017 and then as a full program beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. We provide school leaders and ninth-grade educators with professional development, job-embedded coaching, access to an advanced data platform, and the technical assistance needed to develop and implement highly effective programs and practices for keeping ninth-grade students on the path to on-time graduation.

Earlier this month, we recognized the great efforts of the 13 high schools in the 2018-2019 Memphis FSN cohort and celebrated their successes at a special luncheon featuring guest speaker Janice Wells, CEO of Sankofa Education Group who, as Chicago Public Schools’ deputy chief of high schools, pioneered successful strategies that resulted in 24 schools in her designated area outperforming other high schools across the district in freshmen on-track, graduation, and college enrollment rates.

We’ve worked diligently with the Memphis FSN school teams this past year and, as a result, schools in the network saw an overall (combined) 30 percentage point increase in the number of freshmen who are on track to graduate at the end of the third quarter than at the same point in the previous school year, with the percentage point increases at individual schools ranging from 16 to 61. Kudos to each school team for such remarkable and rewarding outcomes for the first year!

Although the 2018-2019 school year is drawing to a close, our work with the Memphis Freshmen Success Network is still moving at full speed. This summer, we will add nine new schools into a second FSN cohort for the 2019-2020 school year. Encouraged by what we’ve seen so far, we look forward to collaborating with all of our teams, current and new, toward even greater improvements in ninth-grade success rates in the new year.

To support the work of Stand for Children Tennessee, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today.

Nothing in teacher training prepared me for how trauma would creep into my classroom.

During my first year teaching, Martin spent most afternoons with me, cracking jokes as he helped grade homework. Then in April, this bubbly, boisterous boy found me in our library. He stared from the doorway, silent and solemn. After a lingering pause, he said: “My father……shot himself last night.” My family has been touched by suicide and I still felt helplessly unprepared for this moment. I hugged him with care and told him that I loved him and was here for him.

Once a consistent and high-achieving student, Martin became disruptive and absent-minded. He missed assignments, started arguments with teachers, and wanted to fight peers over anything.

Martin’s trauma was abrupt, as were its consequences. But other students face unique traumas, and the impacts are not always so apparent. While some kids escalate emotionally, argue, and fight, others retreat inside themselves and withdraw. Exposure to trauma changes how a child responds to stress: the brain is rewired, with hormones and chemicals holding the brain at the edge of flight-or-fight. Seemingly small words, actions, or stressors can push a student over the edge.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic childhood events that alter physiology and affect normal brain development, especially of structures involved in decision-making and emotional regulation. An “ACE score” is determined by simply assessing exposure during the first 18 years of life to particular traumas including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; parental mental illness or suicide; parental separation or divorce; domestic violence; parental substance/alcohol abuse; and incarceration within the household.

As a person experiences more ACEs, their risk for adverse outcomes later in life increases. Research by the CDC suggests that higher ACE scores are significantly correlated with lower educational attainment, increased risk for chronic disease, mental illness and cancer, increased incarceration, increased suicidality, and decreased longevity.

Put more simply, unresolved or unaddressed childhood trauma plagues an individual into adulthood.

And though childhood trauma is remarkably commonplace — 52% of adults in Shelby County have an ACE score of one or more, 21% have two or three ACEs, and 12% have four or more—schools within Shelby County often lack the resources, data, and personnel to respond effectively to it.

I knew none of this when Martin told me of his father’s suicide. Though I found small ways to support his healing in the classroom, I lacked adequate training to fully support him in the aftermath of his father’s death. And while my school social workers were amazing in how they supported me and Martin, with large caseloads to handle, they were already spread thin. Many school social workers in Memphis are shared between multiple schools, as Shelby County Schools has only about 60 to serve over 200 schools. Many students only have a social worker in their building once per week.

SCS recently passed a resolution to become a “trauma-informed” district and will require all personnel to undergo trauma awareness training. While these are important first steps, they are not enough. Schools need significant investment in staff and resources to move beyond being trauma-informed to being truly trauma-responsive. We must better equip schools for the reality of trauma in our classrooms and communities because the unmitigated costs of not doing so are too high.

A coalition of parents, teachers, students, and community organizations—Stand for Children, MICAH, and 9-0-ONE (Organizing Network for Equity)—has been advocating to the school board for specific investments to address trauma based on research and input from experienced professionals in the field. We need teachers with access to and training in social-emotional learning curricula and other systems to create trauma-responsive supportive classrooms. We need more school social workers and behavior specialists so that every student has highly trained adults in their building to support them through traumatic experiences. We need more Family Engagement Specialists who can connect parents and caregivers to community resources so that families can understand and mitigate the impact of childhood trauma on our kids, thereby helping to reduce disciplinary incidents and increase school attendance. We need trauma-responsive pilot schools to collect data and serve as models to expand best throughout Memphis.

Join our coalition at the school board meetings on May 21 (4pm) and May 28 to show your support and ensure that the SCS budget for the upcoming year creates trauma-responsive pilot schools, funds additional support staff such as Family Engagement Specialists, and includes other investments in wraparound services.

Without proper supports, students with trauma can fall through the cracks, leaving their greatness unrealized. But when schools have the tools and staff to respond, students like Martin develop resilience, self-awareness, and coping strategies, bringing them back in control of their emotions and back into the classroom.

Every child facing trauma deserves a community of love AND professional support so that they can survive, heal, grow, learn, and thrive.

Dylan Moore is a teacher and department chair at a public charter school in Southwest Memphis, and a community advocate with Stand for Children and 9-O-ONE (Organizing Network for Equity). Originally from Washington, he has lived and taught in Memphis since 2017.

For over a year, Stand for Children, MICAH, and 9-0-One have been working both separately and together to define occasions for improving educational opportunities for students in Shelby County. We have talked with Shelby County Schools (SCS) administrators, SCS Board Members, County Commissioners, the County Mayor, parents, students, and other community stakeholders and have outlined a list of requests and recommendations that are in alignment with the goals, priorities, and plans of both the district and our county officials, as well as many of the hopes and dreams for young people that we have heard across the community. Where research exists, we have focused on proven, evidence-based approaches to develop opportunities for increasing support and success for all students.

When we found that our organizations had set similar focus areas, we decided to join as a collaborative to share our research, experience, knowledge, skills, and solutions. We knew that the power of a unified community voice for our young people was a model that needed to be seen and heard.

As SCS enters its budget process and considers the investments that the district wants to make in 2019-2020, we recently presented SCS Board Members with our proposals for setting priorities and making investments for SCS students. While some of these requests may not require more funding, we must be bold in what we want for our young people and cannot shy away from asking for what is needed. Even if these requests mean that the SCS budget must increase, we look forward to pushing with SCS leaders and board members for the funding from Shelby County to ensure that SCS and its partners are able to deliver these impactful investments with fidelity.

Click here to download a PDF of our full presentation to the SCS School Board.

Supporting Schools to Help Students Succeed

The requests included in this section have some of the strongest backing based on the clear researched evidence and best practices that have been gathered on these topics.

Graduation Success for College and Career

Every student should be given the support necessary to graduate from high school and, upon graduation, students should be prepared for success in either college or their chosen career path.

In order to meet SCS’ Destination 2025 goal of a 90% graduation rate, we must ensure that every high school is focused on making sure 9th graders are on track by 2021.

  • Commit to all high schools having an intentional, evidence-based 9th grade-on-track program by 2021. Research indicates this should include at least bi-weekly 9th grade team meetings, focused student data monitoring, targeted academic interventions, one-on-one coaching support, freshman seminar/advisory class, participation in peer improvement network, and summer bridge program for 8th graders.
  • For 2019-2020, support expansion of the Freshman Success Network with 5 additional SCS traditional high schools (9 current schools) for a total of 14 traditional high schools in 2019-2020.

$65,000 per school with current allocation and summer bridge pilot (6 schools, 50 students each).

Estimated Cost: $1.3 million

High-quality career pathways should be available equitably to all students.

  • Programs should include rigorous curriculum and instruction towards industry certification, structured learning communities, work-based learning, an industry advisory board to ensure industry connection to all components, and school-based staff to ensure high-quality programs and assist students in post-graduation planning.
  • Funding to support expansion of NAF Academies with at least 6 more Academies.

Estimated Cost: $125,000 plus staffing costs (1 person for Academies oversight per school)

We can significantly impact literacy in grades K-2 by using research-based best practices to provide the supports needed to ensure that as few 2nd grade students as possible are retained under the new policy.

  • Create a more comprehensive early literacy pilot program with expansion of EL Foundations to 16 additional schools (from current 8); provide literacy coaches for each of the 24 elementary schools in the pilot; increase access to high-quality, culturally relevant books in pilot classrooms.

Est. $2.8 million (curriculum & materials, PD, coaches, and books)

  • Additional benefit could come from commitment to 18 students per class for K-2.

Facilities & Funding Our Students Deserve

All students need facilities and classrooms that meet 21st century standards.

  • By August 2019, SCS should develop a comprehensive footprint analysis for Shelby County Schools (including charter schools and ASD) that emphasizes access to academic opportunities and social-emotional learning. SCS can allocate the funding needed to create this analysis in the 2019-20 SCS Budget.
  • By December 2019, SCS should develop a 7- to 10-year comprehensive facilities investment plan that is equitable for students and neighborhoods, focused on 21st century learning needs, and aligns resources to serve students and families well. SCS can allocate the funding needed to create the facilities investment plan in the 2019-20 SCS Budget.

Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline

Students who are suspended from school lose valuable learning time, and can be set on a path that impacts the rest of their lives. 

SCS has recently committed to become a trauma-informed and responsive district that understands that we must begin to better address the social and emotional needs of all students and do our best to prevent and address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

  • Trauma responsive schools – SCS should create a 10-school pilot that includes additional staff and both proactive (SEL curriculum) and reactive (restorative practices) programs, training, and support.

Estimated Cost: $2 million

SCS has recognized the use of exclusionary practices (out-of-school suspensions and expulsions) as a serious challenge and should continue to make progress in reducing these.

  • Ensure that all elementary schools have designated staff for supportive, trauma-responsive in-school suspension or similar alternatives to out-of-school suspensions (e.g., reset rooms).
  • All schools should have a trauma-responsive trained Family Engagement Specialist who supports students and families with connections to interventions and supports in-school and outside of school. Adding 30 each year, this could be accomplished within 3 years. Clear metrics should be set around decreasing chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and expulsions.
    • 30 additional Family Engagement Specialists for 2019-2020 school year.

Estimated Cost: $1.8 million

There is a great need for additional counselors, social workers, and/or behavioral specialists in schools, but there may be a lack of certified candidates available for the scale needed by SCS.

  • Support staff that schools fund through their SBB, Title I, or other school-based funding source should come from a pool of candidates and fall under the oversight (with appropriate training and support) of the primary SCS office for that role.
    • This will help to maintain consistency in abilities and expectations for all schools with the same role in that school.
    • For example, all Family Engagement Specialists should be overseen by FACE and all Behavioral Specialists should be overseen by Student Support Services.

Community Investment for All Youth

In the schools, we see community investment through making our schools more equitable and ensuring that we are meeting the needs of all of our students and families.

Memphis has a growing population of non-English speaking community members. We should work as a community to welcome our neighbors and ensure they have equitable access to needed information.

  • Ensure an option for students to have their report cards and all official documents (prioritizing IEPs and 504s) translated and printed in Spanish with plans to expand to all students’ families’ preferred language.  Provide resources in the budget to ensure the implementation for the 2019-2020 school year.

SCS can help to stem the tide of Opportunity Youth by providing supports and programs that recognize and address the challenges faced by justice-involved youth.

  • SCS should commit to continue funding for Project STAND at Carver High School to replace expiring federal funding and to explore expanding the program to more schools with high concentrations of justice-involved youth.

Estimated Cost: $450,000

City of Memphis

  • Increase MPLOY summer job opportunities from current 1,750 to 5,000 by 2022.

City of Memphis & Shelby County

Literacy plays a pivotal role in student success. The ability to read is the academic lever that determines a student’s future and is strongly correlated to achievement in all other areas. However, a lack of resources and investment in literacy creates a barrier for student achievement that cannot easily be overcome. This is where we step in as advocates for resources that students and families need to create a clear path to success.

Students spend the early stages of life, up until second grade, learning to read and facing the challenges that that alone presents. In third grade, students are expected to read more independently for comprehension. Students who are not able to read on grade level when expected will ultimately have more difficulty with course material than their literate peers. With limited time for reading mastery in the classroom, illiteracy is not immediately addressed and silently becomes more than a barrier, but a solid rock wall with achievement on the other side.

Based on my experience in the classroom, promoting literacy (and tackling illiteracy) takes time and effort. It is a seed must be nurtured by parents and guardians at home, supported at the school level, and embedded in our values. Families can support literacy efforts at home and in school in several ways: 

– Giving students time to read at home that is outside of instructional time

– Supporting and advocating for book fairs at their school

– Taking students to the library and allowing them to self-select books

– Attending a read-aloud or reading program hosted at the library or school

– Modeling reading techniques

– Watching read-aloud videos on YouTube

We cannot always assume that time and resources are available, though, and the reality is that they often are not. Parents in our community have a tremendously hard job to do without much support. As advocates, we can provide community support by providing access to tutoring, references, transportation, and cost-free options and challenging our leaders to invest in our children’s futures. If we are serious about improving student achievement outcomes, we should all be advocating for investments that will benefit our children. 

Parents and the communities they live in are the primary influences on children’s lives, especially education. Even if we are not the parent, we are still the community. Let’s make sure that our communities and families have the tools they need to build a foundation for student success.

Elaina Ross is currently in her sixth year as an educator in Memphis, TN. Elaina dedicated her first five years to teaching in the Hickory Hill and Westwood communities, and currently serves as an Instructional Coach for K-5 educators. She has a master’s degree in education from Christian Brothers University.

Momentum 500 Hopes to Drive Student Success

Based on ACT scores, the state of Tennessee considers just 7 percent of graduating Shelby County Schools students ready for college. Additionally, the Memphis child poverty rate is 43% and the city also has the highest rate of opportunity youth (children ages 16-24 who are not in school or working) in the country.

To truly improve our education system, achievement rates and outcomes for students, parents must have a seat at the table and be involved in the ongoing movement to help more children succeed in school and beyond.

Stand for Children member and Team Captain, Bernice Martin, recognizes the importance of supporting student success and works alongside other parents to maximize individual and collective impact for the benefit of students in Memphis schools.

A retired grandmother of five, Mrs. Martin joined Stand for Children in September 2015 and became a leader within the organization earlier this year. She volunteers her time as a team captain, training others parents on how to amplify their voices for greater influence and rallying them to advocate for effective solutions to address education challenges that many students in Memphis currently face.  She also runs a girls ministry at her church and serves as a mentor for young women.

Mrs. Martin recently shared reflections on why she joined Stand and her experiences over the past two years.

                      Mrs. Martin with her grandchildren


My best friend ran for School Board so I was already somewhat involved in education prior to joining Stand, but I became more involved because I noticed a lot of changes occurring within our school system. I’m passionate about children and their future, and I liked Stand’s mission to advocate for all and not just some. Making sure my grandchildren get a high quality education is one of my top priorities. I advocate not only for them, but for all children being affected by education changes taking place.

With my management background, I also felt like I had a unique set of skills to offer to that cause. So many parents don’t have the skills and training to effectively advocate. And often they don’t have time to follow what’s happening in our legislature- they are busy enough with work and trying to get their kids to school on time every day.

So with Stand, it is like parents now have an information hub to stay on top of what’s happening in the schools and in the political arena that may impact their children, and a place where they can learn how to get involved.


We are building an army to fight for our students and we need more people to volunteer and who are willing to get in the ring with us. Stand offers classes to teach parents how to advocate – how to make a difference – and also gives opportunities for parents to learn soft skills to speak on behalf of their child.

When I joined I honestly was hesitant because after retiring, I didn’t want it to feel like a job. But I learned that advocating is sometimes just about showing up to a meeting or event – even if you aren’t the one speaking on behalf of children – or it could be just your presence gives other parents and children the encouragement they need to know someone is in their corner.    


Now is the time. There is a lot happening. A lot of changes are being made (to school systems, education policy, standards) and we don’t know what the outcomes will be or what else may come down the pipeline. So we need to be ready. We need to have our voices heard and considered in decision-making that affects students and schools. We are voters. The right people aren’t always in right positions to do what’s best and with Momentum 500, we can have an army in position to influence them and hold them accountable; or be ready to move them and vote them out if needed.


What is holding you back? In Stand, there are opportunities for all to advocate and we meet you where you are. Get in where you fit in because we are on a quest to make change!

Everyone may not want to speak out or be a team captain, or meet with legislators, but education advocacy starts with you just making a commitment to support children and their best interests.


Momentum 500 is an initiative led by Stand for Children to form a coalition of parents in Tennessee who share a common goal to improve education quality and outcomes.  The Momentum 500 Coalition works alongside parents, school leaders and legislators to enhance academic achievement, school performance, and influence education policy decisions that affect students in Tennessee. 

As Memphis Operations Coordinator and Digital Strategist, Amariah works to improve the education system and schools in Tennessee.

That’s how much time my 2nd and 3rd grade classes have read over the past 8 weeks during our literacy challenge at Hull Jackson.

Children with a strong reading background are able to keep up better in other subjects. Reading helps with critical thinking skills and better prepares students to engage in work that requires great focus and clarity.

In the classroom, I take steps to promote the discussion of books. I read the books that they do, like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. We also like to watch the movie version of a book after the students have read it. This is a fun way to see if our visualization of the story was similar to what the director, cinematographer, and screenwriter showed.

It’s important to take reading outside of the classroom too, and I work with parents throughout the year to support their child in reading. For busy parents like myself, I suggest listening to books on CD in the car, and then hitting the pause button to discuss the story.  

Encouraging reading through our literacy challenge this year has had students discussing books more than video games or other entertainment. We have had so many exchanges that I am adding a book report wall for students to recommend a book to a classmate.

Every child, with the proper support, can become a strong reader – and each of us has a role to play. Join me in helping to close the reading proficiency gap in our homes and communities.

With the recent graduation of dozens of parents from the Stand University for Parents program in Memphis, City Director, Cardell Orrin, and parent leader, Amber Johnson-Mitchell sat down with WREG News Channel 3’s Marybeth Conley and Alex Coleman for a segment on how parents can be active and involved in their child’s success.

Cardell and Amber shared parenting tips and ways that parents can get involved in their child’s education process by being or becoming their biggest advocate.

“It takes a village and we all have to be on the same team—parents, teachers, administration—because the goal is for our children to succeed. So if we all come together and we’re all on the same plan, on the same team, we can achieve anything.” – Amber Mitchell-Johnson

Watch the video for more tips and information.


With the recent graduation of dozens of parents from the Stand University for Parents program in Memphis, City Director, Cardell Orrin, and parent leader, Amber Johnson-Mitchell sat down with WREG News Channel 3’s Marybeth Conley and Alex Coleman for a segment on how parents can be active and involved in their child’s success.

Cardell and Amber shared parenting tips and ways that parents can get involved in their child’s education process by being or becoming their biggest advocate.

“It takes a village and we all have to be on the same team—parents, teachers, administration—because the goal is for our children to succeed. So if we all come together and we’re all on the same plan, on the same team, we can achieve anything.” – Amber Mitchell-Johnson

Watch the video for more tips and information.