The nationwide organization Stand For Children opened a Memphis office in 2010. Directed by local Memphian Kenya Bradshaw, Stand for Children has already been a part of several successful campaigns to address systemic problems facing children, like educational opportunities, family and community characteristics and localized poverty. Stand for Children is solution-oriented, rather than problem-oriented:

Founded in 1999, Tennessee Stand for Children brings together people from all walks of life – parents, grandparents, people who work with children, and others who care about the next generation – in order to make children a top political priority. Tennessee Stand for Children members believe we need to invest in our children now – particularly in their education and enrichment from pre-school through high school – to ensure they have a fair chance in life and to create a better future for Tennessee. Through effective advocacy, Tennessee Stand for Children Chapters have won 15 victories that have directly improved the lives of more than 300,000 children in the state and leveraged more than $149 million in public funding for children’s programs. With Chapters currently in Memphis, Nashville, and Hamilton County/Chattanooga, Stand for Children is fast becoming a strong, statewide citizen voice that Tennessee’s children urgently need.

Ms. Bradshaw is an advocate and community organizer who has long lobbied on behalf of children’s issues. However, her vision of a better Memphis does not rest exclusively with the children. The organization take the approach of comprehensive involvement by parents, neighborhoods, schools and elected officials to create better policy options that benefit the current generation and prepare a successful path for future ones. She says:

“Memphis is at a Tipping Point as it pertains to public education. We can no longer do things as usual and expect different results. To ensure that all children are receiving the highest quality educational experience it will take our whole community to Stand for Children. We are training parents and non-parents alike to become leaders and advocate for what is in the best interest of all students.”

National Civil Rights Museum

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN

Saturday, May 15th was the kickoff event for Stand for Children. Held at the National Civil Rights Museum, the event featured Dr. David Hill, MCS Coordinator of Strategic Planning and Accountability, MCS board member Tomeka Hart and Commissioner Deidre Malone.

Ms. Hart noted some of the upcoming changes to measuring student achievement in Memphis City and Shelby County Schools, stating that the state of Tennessee will be recalibrating their metrics for proficiency. She said that initially it may appear that some schools – even ones thought to be doing well – will have surprising scores under the new proficiency standards. This doesn’t mean that students are doing worse than they were last year; rather it means that Tennessee has raised the bar for student proficiency to a more uniform standard.

“It’s like running a 12-minute mile one day and that being considered proficient,” she says,” and then being asked to run a six-minute mile the next to meet proficiency.”

It may take some time to get students up to speed. The important takeaway is that the raised expectations will not hinder, but rather enhance, our understanding of our students’ true proficiency and enable teachers, principals, parents and the community to support and inspire them to meet the new proficiency standards. This strategy addresses what former U.S. Department of Education head Rod Paige labeled as the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

It’s not enough to raise the bar, however. We must all rise to meet the challenge and encourage our local assets – the children – to grow up in a nurturing and positive environment conducive to learning.

Participants at Stand for Children Kickoff Event

Participants in the Stand for Children kickoff event

Commissioner Malone discussed the community’s vital role in the process:

You have to get to know your elected officials. They want to get re-elected, and they want to know that they have the community’s support when it comes to tough votes and making hard decisions. This means being in the audience for critical votes, calling, emailing and writing your elected officials.”

Particularly noticeable at the event was the childcare provided in the room adjacent to the program aimed at adults. Children worked on art projects and constructed an education-themed mural.

Children's artwork at Stand for Children event

Art project by children attending Stand for Children's kickoff event

Stand for Children was instrumental in mobilizing community support for the Race to the Top, a nationwide competition which awarded millions of dollars to two states: Tennessee and Maryland, with Tennessee taking the lion’s share of the $500 million grant.

Stand for Children is a trusted partner in the community that will continue to advance a child-friendly agenda in our city.

You can learn more about Stand for Children here and here, and about charting students’ progress in Tennessee here.