Monday, July 25, 2016

Parents get a ‘LIFT’ with their children’s education

'LIFT' parents include Carmelita Hernandez (left), Victoria Kirkwood, Tonya Sevion-
Cole and Marquita Finnie. (Photos by Wiley Henry)
Since parental involvement is sorely missing in the public schools system, The Memphis LIFT (TML) is on the move to make sure that more parents are involved in the education of their school-aged children.
Last year, a team led by John Little, TML’s surge director, knocked on nearly 11,000 doors throughout Memphis to inform parents about school choice, the radical changes in public education, and to build widespread demand for high quality schools.
TML is a parent-focused advocacy group designed to “educate, engage and empower.” “We’re making a difference,” said Little, a community organizer who first joined LIFT in March 2015. “We have a long way to go. It’s only a drop in the bucket, but we have to keep adding drops.”
Sarah Carpenter, director of The Memphis LIFT.
Little is one of 20 staffers at TML, a non-profit with varied resources to help parents. There is a director of choice counseling, director of operations, and director of Public Advocate Fellowship (PAF) – each working in tandem to give parents the tools they need to improve the quality of education for their children.
Dianechia Fields is the director PAF, “a revolutionary program designed by and for parents to increase the number of parents who participate in the public conversation about education in our city.” TML offers the program free of charge.
“We used to do 20-25 parents a class, which were two classes one day a week,” said Fields. “Now we will have four classes two days a week. We’re looking at reaching 62 parents. The four classes will start Sept. 12.”
“The only way we can save our kids is to educate our parents,” said Sarah Carpenter, TML’s new director and longtime community activist fighting for children. “When you educate parents, they can go to the schools and know the right questions to ask. That’s what we do here.”
Carpenter also said, “We got to meet people where they are and take them to where they’re trying to go, and that is to educate and empower and engage the parents. We’re trying to reach that powerless parent and make that parent powerful.”
Marquita Finnie is the mother of five children. All five are in school. “I have gained more knowledge of what’s going on in the school system than what I knew,” said Finnie, who volunteered each day at Whitney Achievement Elementary when school was in session.
Finnie is now aware that there are options and choices available in public education that will improve her children’s performance. And she’s using the best of TML’s tools to make sure that her children are attending the right schools.
Carmelita Hernandez has six children; three of them will be attending school when the doors open on Aug. 8. Hernandez didn’t know anything about TML until Carpenter gave her the lowdown on the work the advocacy group has been doing to help parents.
“I try to focus on Hispanic parents who don’t say anything, because they think this (education) is better than anything,” said Hernandez, who is advocating for Hispanics at Raleigh Egypt Middle School. “Here (Shelby County Schools), education should be equal no matter where you come from – but it’s not always that way.”
Hernandez said the language barrier sometimes keep Hispanic parents uninformed and out of the loop when they have questions concerning school placement and the tools they need to educate their children.
“You got to push. You got to ask for something. It may be no, but later on it may be yes. That’s what I tell them,” she said.
TML is available to all parents – black, white, Hispanic – whatever their needs are, Carpenter said. “If we empower the parents, we’re on our way.”

(For more information, contact The Memphis LIFT at 901-276-0850 or by email at

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