People of Literacy Mid-South: Seeding Success

People of Literacy Mid-South is a column that takes a close look at the folks that make our organization tick. But today, we’re not looking at a person. Instead, we’re discussing an organization whose support and guidance is valuable to Literacy Mid-South.

seeding success

Seeding Success is not an organization that directly serves individuals. Instead, Seeding Success focuses on helping organizations be more effective in serving their communities. Seeding Success works to create collaborative partnerships, called Collaborative Action Networks (CANs for short) that focus on a particular service area. In their own words:

The Seeding Success Partnership collaborates to ensure every child graduates high school prepared for college, career and success in life.

Seeding Success pulls together K-12 institutions, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and countless other types of organizations to work pursuing equitable educational outcomes for children. The organizations that Seeding Success organizes into CANs agree to focus on a set of goals that are developed beneath the umbrella of Seeding Success’ larger organizational goals:

  • GOAL 1: Every child is prepared for success in school;
  • GOAL 2: Every student is successful in school and graduates prepared for college, career, and success in life;
  • GOAL 3: Every youth who is not in school reconnects to education, training, or employment opportunities;
  • GOAL 4: Every young adult has access to a post-secondary opportunity or career.

These goals are put into practice by arranging the CANs to focus on one of eight academic outcomes. The outcomes that Seeding Success and their organizational CANs are attempting to influence are: Kindergarten Readiness, Third Grade Reading Proficiency, Middle School Math Proficiency, College and Career Readiness, High School Graduation rates, Access to Post Secondary opportunities and attainment of success at those Post Secondary opportunities, and a focus on providing educational and career opportunities to Opportunity Youth. Each CAN works together to provide research informed strategies to impact these areas and ensure that children and young adults will lead successful lives.

education studyingLiteracy Mid-South has a presence in two of those CANs. We are the convener of the Third Grade Reading Proficiency CAN, and we provide space and support to organizations who collaborate to improve the rates of reading proficiency at grade 3 for every Shelby County child. The CAN focuses on three areas that impact reading proficiency for grade 3 students: attendance, literacy, and psychological barriers. The CAN has made vision screenings available for hundreds of grade 3 students through a partnership with the Southern College of Optometry, as well as provided books and literacy instruction to thousands of students through Literacy Mid-South’s Summer Reading Program.

Literacy Mid-South’s Adult Learning Program is involved in the Opportunity Youth CAN, a CAN dedicated to connecting roughly 40,000 local young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not connected to education or employment programs with gainful employment and education opportunities. The Workforce Investment Network is the convener of this CAN, and it includes partnerships with the Memphis Goodwill Excel Center, ResCare, and the Tennessee Department of Corrections. The CAN has gathered focus group data from former Opportunity Youth and is now developing a report based on the findings.

Seeding Success connects organizations that work in similar impact areas with each other and allows them to exponentially increase their reach and effectiveness. Without Seeding Success’ unique approach to collaboration, many organizations who are working to make Memphis a better place would be shouldering their burdens alone.

Literacy Mid-South provides literacy resources to Mid-South learners of all ages and backgrounds. Our vision is 100% literacy in the Mid-South. Visit our website to learn more about our programs and mission.



AmeriCorps Vista Summer Associates Are Working to Create a More Literate Mid-South


In our post “Summer Reading With Literacy Mid-South,” we discussed a phenomenon called Summer Slide. Here’s its basic premise: students who don’t engage in educational opportunities during summer vacation risk losing some of the academic gains that they made during the school year. An active summer with reading and literacy focused activities can assist students in retaining key reading abilities, and in some cases, can even help to address the achievement gap. For the past year, Literacy Mid-South has been building and implementing a summer reading program in collaboration with several community partners from all over Memphis. The summer reading program is currently serving thousands of children, providing them with books and reading instruction throughout their summer vacation.

IMG_0028In order to reach over 3000 students and serve 30 organizations, AmeriCorps VISTA provided Literacy Mid-South with 20 Summer Associates who are committed to the cause.  The VISTA members were trained, and provided with the skills they needed to help attack this issue. These AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates are Mid-Southerners dedicated not only to improving summer reading, but also to impressing upon the community the importance of literacy. Each Summer Associate works at a different community partner’s site, and performs reading pre- and post-assessments, serves as a point of contact between the community partner and Literacy Mid-South, and helps to deepen the community partner’s understanding of the importance of ongoing literacy skills training.

Esther Kang, an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate serving at W. H. Brewster Elementary School, thinks that this program is very necessary. During her time there, Esther has gotten to know Memphis a little bit better, and also has gained a deeper understanding of the need for reading intervention. She’s found the work at her site “refreshing, frustrating, and challenging,” but says that it’s a great program. Esther’s most impactful moment was working with a student who read at a significantly lower level than he needed to for school.

“He was just so grateful for the attention and positive reinforcement,” Esther said. “And it’s helped his self-esteem and changed his perspective of reading and learning.”


Rodney Frison is a Human Services Major at the University of Memphis, and serves at the YMCA Davis site housed at Riverside Missionary Baptist Church. Rodney does not have a background in education, and this was actually his first time working with children in this type of program.

“Now, I can definitely see the need for literacy services,” Rodney said. His time as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate has taught him more about the power of networking and taking a collaborative approach to solving community issues. And for Rodney, the most powerful collaboration that he’s seen is with parents. “We’re establishing reading as an at-home thing too.”

Alexandria Wallace, a Music Education major at the Universty of Memphis and Summer Associate at Knowledge Quest, was initially nervous about starting work in an area of the city so different from where she’d grown up. She was suprised at how engaged the entire community, particularly the parents and children, was in her work.

Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate with the Literacy Mid-South summer reading program has affected Alexandria’s career goals. She’s thinking about the impact that education can have on children, and is perhaps considering a change of major.

“Now that I see how much these kids need a fantastic education, I want to help.”

Literacy Mid-South provides literacy resources to Mid-South learners of all ages and backgrounds. Our vision is 100% literacy in the Mid-South. Visit our website to learn more about our programs and mission. 


Rethinking Homework Help


Many of our elementary, middle, and high school experiences have given us fond (perhaps not so fond) memories of homework. Ideas that we had been introduced to in the classroom were ideally reinforced with assignments that we were expected to complete during the time we weren’t at school. We were told that we were assigned homework because it was necessary, because it would instill in us a work ethic and study skills that we’d need to be productive adults–and that’s to say nothing of how effective homework was at helping us to grasp the complicated nuances of the subjects that we were learning in school. We needed the extra practice, right?

Well, perhaps not.

Some researchers are beginning to question the validity of homework as a tool that actually helps students. First, a focus on homework completion is potentially regressive–that is, it hurts students from vulnerable populations. Think students struggling with poverty, students lacking parental support, students with learning needs, and students from racial groups that have been long neglected by our educational systems. Additionally, there is research that shows that there really is no correlation between homework and student academic performance, at least for most elementary school students. Homework’s impact on academic performance increases for middle and high school students.

There are other issues as well. Many students from those targeted or marginalized populations attend schools that give students large homework loads, assuming that the homework will reinforce skills learned in classrooms. But the teachers aren’t always available to assist students with homework, and the parents or support systems aren’t always available for these students. The issue becomes that these students cannot comprehend their homework assignments, and thus, can’t complete them–or if the homework is complete, it’s not necessarily correct.

homework help

Many community organizations are attempting to remedy this by offering homework help to the students that they serve. Their aim is to help the students and reduce the amount of time that the students will have to spend on homework while at home, freeing up students’ time so that they can spend it relaxing or with their family. For middle and high school students, this homework help can be very valuable. However, as we said above, complete homework isn’t necessarily correct homework, and struggling students who receive help that is incorrect or learn ineffective habits can actually exacerbate their achievement problems.

Also, there’s evidence that many organizations just don’t have the staff necessary to ensure that every child receives an equal amount of homework assistance. When the ratio of staff to student is 1 staff member for every 25 students, there isn’t really any hope of individualized help, which means that homework–and homework help–can become a game of completion rather than a tool that eventually helps students become more proficient in their areas of study.

Is there a solution? Not a simple one.

A focus on building comprehension skills in children, and encouraging them to engage with their work in different, more meaningful ways can go a long way toward positively effecting student achievement. Especially in the case of young children, there is not so much a need for help with specific homework assignments as there is a need for children to increase their ability to read and comprehend texts.

Young learners also would benefit from improving their communication ability. This includes their use of oral language in addition to comprehension. If they are guided toward improvement of these skills, they will gain skills necessary to meaningfully engage with their work and be empowered to communicate about not only their academic expectations, but any misunderstandings that arise.

If our goal is to make sure that our students are truly engaged readers and critical thinkers, then we have to make sure that we focus on assisting them with essential skills that will serve them throughout their academic careers–and those skills are developed from targeted reading and literacy instruction as well as homework help.

Want to help us achieve our goal of a 100% literate Mid-South? Consider donating to Literacy Mid-South, or spread the word. And follow our blog for more updates.

The fifth annual Literatini, our book and martini focused event that is “straight up fun for a good cause”, is June 10th at 6pm!Click here to buy tickets.

Summer Reading With Literacy Mid-South


In a few short weeks, students will leave their classrooms and schools and begin enjoying their summer vacations. During this time, many students will be enrolled in summer camps, community programs, or on vacation with their families. Others will struggle to access meaningful summer opportunities, educational or otherwise. Summer vacation plans notwithstanding, it is important for students (and, some would argue, the entire community–including adults) to read during summer vacation. Students who don’t engage in educational opportunities risk losing some of the academic gains that they made during the school year. This phenomenon is called “Summer Slide” or “summer learning loss.”

Summer learning loss has an adverse effect  on student performance at the beginning of the following school year. In addition to this negative outcome, it can also widen the academic performance gap between low performing students and their peers. This chasm in performance between groups students from different backgrounds is known as the achievement gap. In fact, some research suggests that summer learning loss, especially in the case of students from low income households, can make students already affected by the achievement gap less likely to finish high school or enter college.  


Students in the Mid-South are not immune to the Summer Slide, and Literacy Mid-South is attempting to mitigate its effects. We’ve developed a summer reading program in collaboration with a network of partners to measure the effectiveness of summer learning loss prevention efforts and hopefully curb the learning loss associated with summer vacation. Our partners include organizations that are already doing meaningful work in the community: Memphis Athletic Ministries, Streets Ministries, and Agape Child and Family Services, among others. We hope not only to mitigate summer reading loss, but also build a community of students and organizations dedicated to summer reading.

This summer we will be rolling out the Literacy Mid-South Summer Reading pilot program that will attack summer reading loss by providing students with rich, complex, and culturally competent books to work with over the summer vacation. Throughout the summer, we will focus on increasing oral language and vocabulary. Our hope is to serve 2000 students through the pilot program, and have around 3,800 students enrolled in the summer reading community. Additionally, every student that participates will receive three books free of charge.

The mission of Literacy Mid-South is to provide literacy resources to learners of all ages and backgrounds. Our summer reading program will work to make good on that mission by providing thousands of underserved children with the literacy support that they need to stay abreast of their peers when school resumes in August. The work that we’re doing now will lead to a stronger Mid-South in the long run.

Want to help us achieve our goal of a 100% literate Mid-South? Consider donating to Literacy Mid-South, or spread the word. And follow our blog for more updates.

The fifth annual Literatini, our book and martini focused event that is “straight up fun for a good cause”, is June 10th at 6pm! Click here to buy tickets.