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‘Changing young lives one child at a time’

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell

Evidane Slaughter is a dreamer – always has been. Her dreams have taken her all the way to a Memphis City Schools classroom. Evidane Slaughter is a dreamer – always has been. Her dreams have taken her all the way to a Memphis City Schools classroom. One brief exchange at Education Scholarship Preparation Nurture (ESPN Academy) changed her forever.

At ESPN Academy, reading is fundamental, everyday. (Courtesy photo)

“Who taught you how to read?”

“Well, you guys did.”

“Right! So since someone taught you how to read, shouldn’t you teach someone?”

“Well…I guess so. I should teach someone else how to read. I’m not sure.”

“Well, you are going to teach someone else how to read.”

Ten years later, Slaughter is a fourth-grade mathematics teacher with Memphis City Schools. She chaired the academy’s 10-year anniversary banquet this summer.

Slaughter joins more than 200 ESPN students in successfully completing high school.

“Memphis schools have always been concerned with soaring drop-out rates, particularly among African-American and Hispanic youth,” said Doris Hill, president and founder of ESPN. “We have enjoyed 100 percent graduation rate because every student we’ve touched over the years actually finished school. Of course, this fact gives us great satisfaction. I’m so proud of all our children.”

More than 100 parents, students and community supporters who have seen a positive change in their South Memphis community turned out for the anniversary celebration. Ramsey Rayford was among them.

“Living in Memphis, and especially South Memphis, you realize the importance of education,” said Rayford, crediting ESPN with giving disadvantaged youngsters a fighting chance. “Without the people here at ESPN Academy – and people like them – our kids don’t stand a chance. All my children are presently students, and I am so grateful for ESPN.”

No one is more surprised at the institute’s growth and success than founder and president Doris Hill.

“Ten years ago, we just thought we would just have an after-school program to help youngsters with homework and science projects,” said Hill. “As the ESPN staff began working with our children, we immediately felt a need to get involved in helping them through some very difficult circumstances.

“One of our second-grade students was awakened about midnight by a young man banging on the front door. He had been shot and was pleading for help. Another one of our boys lost his mother, who had been found strangled and stuffed into a dumpster,” said Hill. “So much tragedy and grief in their lives. We made them a part of the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church family. They know they have safe refuge with us, and so they come.”

Frenita Dean, a sixth-grader at Woodale Middle School, said that besides attending classes three afternoons a week, she learned to cook, grow her own vegetables, and how to change bad behavior at school and at home.

“They helped me to read better and helped me pass to my next grade. I could not have done it without them,” she said.

Stephen Hicks, an eleventh-grader at Christian Brothers High School and long-time recipient of ESPN tutoring services, said he learned character building, multiplication tables and more.

“I started in the second grade in 2001. You could even say I grew up in ESPN.  I’m just so thankful for my teachers everyday, and I make sure to never take them for granted.”

Community Liaison Arthur Scott said the ESPN Academy is a safe haven and respite for its students, even if for a few hours in the evening.

“Open drug use, violence, alcoholism, and a few kids who have survived sexual abuse – we do more than just help our children with homework and school projects,” said Scott.

“It gives them hope outside of the turbulent world they live in. They come to understand that those circumstances do not define who they are.”

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