Poverty: The tie that binds Memphis to poor education

Memphis has a whopping poverty rate of 29.8 percent, according to The Mid-South Family & Community Empowerment Institute. Beyond those numbers, the 2015 poverty rate for children is 46.9 percent.

The questions many have is how do children even become part of the startling poverty rate? The Urban Child Institute says that poverty leads to low education. While Memphis is home to 45 charter schools, schools in low income communities still struggle to operate. These low socio-economic communities are mainly areas that are heavily blighted, full of abandoned homes, and good jobs.

Poverty not only affects a child’s performance in school, but it also affects their ability to continue on to a successful adulthood. Adults like Michael White never considered college as an option because he didn’t feel his upbringing equipped him for the college lifestyle-the lifestyle where one is mature and disciplined enough to complete school.

The Children’s Museum of Memphis is a place for children. The museum hosts weekly programs for children and various schools around the county.

White who has owned a janitorial cleaning company called Well Done since he was 22, with 10 employees.

“Growing up in Orange Mound, nobody really ever talked to me about college,” White said. “So it was pretty much left up to me to decide if I wanted to go or not.”

“Well after graduating from Melrose High School, I got a job cleaning at the hospital,” White said. He still remains proud of the job he did have.

White, and many of his peers are part of the 70.3 percent of high school graduates in Memphis. He started his business more than 30 years ago. White said that his business is proof that you don’t need a college education to be successful in life.

The Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools officially merged on July 1, 2013. The merger officially stemmed from the city school’s desire to be more financially stable.


Minorities rarely exist in schools outside of the inner-city school segment. When the merger took place, schools with more funding decided to become their own school district. Germantown High School is one of them, with only a 15 percent minority rate. However, Melrose High School in the Orange Mound neighborhood has a minority rate of 100 percent.

The Shelby County Board of Education sits right outside of Midtown on Hollywood Blvd. The current Board of Education Superintendent is Dorsey Hopkins.

Those around Memphis feel as though race plays a factor in the poverty segment in education. The median household income of a family in Germantown is $154,000. These families, unfortunate to those in inner-city neighborhoods, can afford to send their children to better education systems. Some even attend charter schools. A family in the Orange Mound community is estimated to bring home $23,372 a year.

Orange Mound resident, Diane Waters, and her neighbors wonder what is to be done about the poverty in the education system. Parents want better for their children but Waters would even go as far to say that the inner-city schools should all be shut down. Waters also says the problem does not stop there.

“We all want out of this community,” Waters said. “But children deserve to be out more than us adults do.”

La Petite Academy sits far from the highway on New Allen Road. The school sits in the heart of North Memphis, not far from Hollywood Street. Next door to the academy is an apartment complex-the projects. Some buildings in the complex are boarded up, while some buildings have tenants leaning over the balcony watching their children play.

Germantown High School, a school that separated into its own school district following the SCS merger in 2013, is one of many Memphis schools outside of the inner-city segment.

Inside is a school with children, ranging in ages from six weeks, to school agers, up to 10-years-old. The school walls are full of children’s artwork and posters about child safety. School records indicate that more than 70 percent of the children enrolled are funded by the state. Many of those same children come from single parent homes where more expensive childcare is not an option, according to the academy’s director. She sees first-hand what education in inner-city schools is like.

Tasha Greer, interim academy director of the New Allen La Petite location, is not from the Mid-South. In Greer’s hometown of Atlanta where her career began, she witnessed the exact opposite of education in an impoverished society.

“It’s evident that even some parents didn’t grow up in the best environment,” Greer said. You can tell in the way they raise their child or how they interact with their child.”

Many of the students’ parents are not over the age of 25, and some have multiple children enrolled in the academy.

“I feel like some of these parents would love to send their kids to a better school, but their pockets and FedEx salaries just won’t allow it,” Greer said.

“So they just do what they can do,” Greer added. Almost half of the parents of the students enrolled are FedEx employees.

Adjacent to the Shelby County Board of Education sits the George H. Barnes Educational Center. The center is named after the former school superintendent, Mr. George Barnes.

Early childhood education experts have conducted a number of studies that provided evidence of long-term outcomes of play-based learning. A 2002 US Study by Rebecca Marcon said that children who begin their education prior to their sixth year of school have better success with long-term education, past grade school.

Students in college settings still feel the effects of growing up in inner-city school systems, according to research conducted by Economist Brad Hersbein. College graduates from poor families were found to earn 91 percent more in their lifetime careers than high school graduates from the same income group. However, college graduates from upper-middle-class families earned 162 percent more in their careers than those with just a high school diploma.

Researchers point out that family resources during childhood and education are directly related. Children who are born to highly educated women receive the necessary attention from their parents (time and money) versus those born to women with lesser educations. Researchers go on to claim that poor students are receiving lower quality education than their “more affluent” peers.

Shelby County Schools is the main public education hub for grade schools in Memphis. Memphis City Schools officially merged with Shelby County districts on July 1, 2013.

Some Memphis college students, like Jasmine Smith, a student at Southwest Tennessee Community College, knows the value of an education. She grew up in a poor household in Binghampton with her siblings and cousins. She graduated from high school, just barely, but she never thought of herself as a smart person.

“I knew I needed to go to a college,” Smith said. “I just didn’t know nothing about how to do it.”

Smith said she doesn’t have very much confidence in herself or the way she speaks. She has aspirations to be an educator in a nice area to give other children what she wishes she had.

Studies show that the education system is a growing sector and that funding is being put into having proper schooling for children.


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About the Author

Mishala Bryant

Mishala Bryant is a journalist with a passion for learning new information. Bryant has worked with The Daily Helmsman, WUMR Radio, the Survival Radio Network and blogged for an online fashion website. The last 4 years of her journalism career have been spent developing a personal blog that she hopes to continue revamping and growing. Aside from having a passion for research, Bryant’s personal interest lies within the fashion industry. She follows all major fashion trends and hopes to use her journalistic skills to take fashion writing to the next level.

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