Getting connected: Grizz Prep blends education with in-school mentorship

For the last two years, Memphis Grizzlies Foundation and Grizz Prep have partnered to give students not only quality educational programming but also a strong network of adult mentors that can be the student’s “extended community.”  The overlap of mentoring and education has improved student performance at the Downtown charter school.

The school and the foundation wanted to see what would happen when young men were connected with excellent academics as well as a network of excellent adult mentors. The results have shown that having an extended community of caring adult support is essential to providing young men the foundation they need for achievement in academics and in life.

“Think about what most affluent childhoods involves — a good school that delivers strong academics and really relevant extracurricular activities. A lot of those children also have the benefit of an extended community in the form of family, neighborhood and community,” said Diane Terrell, executive director and the vice president of community engagement of the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation.

She believes that having caring adults who are there to support young people is the biggest way, if not the best way, to provide young people with life-altering opportunities for success.

Through the Grizzlies Foundation, the Memphis Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School is also piloting an innovative educational dashboard called SILQ-EDU that is changing the way educational staff and admin track student success behind the scenes. Grizz Prep students enjoy five different Grizzlies Foundation programs, which strive to supply kids with strong academic support and discovery as well as an adult network they need to succeed in academics and beyond.

The school also has added grade five to its school. Previously, the middle school taught sixth grade through eighth. This year, Grizz Prep opened a brand new fifth-grade building at 163 Jefferson Avenue, next door to its main building on 168 Jefferson Avenue.

Diane Terrell, Memphis Grizzlies Foundation executive director. (Rachel Warren)In 2014, the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation started to officially incorporate their educational and mentoring programming into the Grizz Prep curriculum. After operating since 2001, the Grizzlies Foundation wanted to see what would happen when they apply their mentoring and educational resources within a school setting, getting an up-close picture of how the programming affects young men.

“Our idea has been to bring all of the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation’s best practice programs to Grizz Prep.

The proof of concept is what happens when you take an underserved population, in this case boys, and you provide them with excellent instruction in academics, but you also provide them with a significant number of adult mentors,” Terrell explained.

“These adult mentors provide Grizz Prep students with expertise, skills, a stable relationship and, most importantly, they can advise the young men in opportunities in career, college and life.”

Grizzlies Foundation programs at Grizz Prep include the TEAM Mentor Program, GrizzFit Kids Bootcamp, CodeCrew, Lunch Buddies, and the Memphis Grizzlies Scholars Program. The flexible nature of the charter school schedule has allowed for these Grizzlies Foundation programs to be included into the student’s day-to-day activities and lessons. Grizz Prep fifth and sixth graders enjoy their Grizz Foundation programming after school and seventh and eighth graders have their programming blended into the school day.

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Grizz Prep principal and school director Parker Couch said that the diverse student population, with 330 total students in the current school year, gives the foundation and school the chance to see how the programming effects kids from a variety of backgrounds.

“No one neighborhood really represents Grizz Prep and that is different when compared to many traditional neighborhood schools. This also gives us a good picture of how the Grizzlies Foundation educational programming influences a wide cross-section of children from all kinds of backgrounds,” he said.

Grizzlies Foundation mentors are not only ready to help Grizz Prep students with their studies, they are also there to help students connect to various opportunities such as internships, influential adults, service and work possibilities and insight into higher education.

Students at Grizzlies Preparatory Charter School, located Downtown. (Rachel Warren)

“Caring adults are available to not only provide those horizontal supports for those children but to also provide those vertical supports and present internship opportunities or career connections.

We have to work extra hard to provide those same set of circumstances for kids growing up in underserved communities,” Terrell said.

The Grizzlies Foundation’s Lunch Buddies program connects kids to professionals. Lunch Buddies pairs two students from the same grade with a mentor who eats lunch with them once a week. Grizz Prep students are able to interact with that professional who can share career advice, professional contacts, and, in some cases, provide the student with connections and support after middle school and into high school.

The Grizzlies Foundation programming has produced positive results for Grizz Prep students. Couch notes the school has seen changes in students’ grades after being enrolled in Grizzlies Foundation programming.

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“We are basing this off a year’s worth of data, so it is still very new, but our data shows that students enrolled in three or more Grizzlies Foundation programming have a half point GPA advantage over students who are not,” Couch said.

Grizz Prep has tapped nonprofit CodeCrew to help bridge the digital literacy gap often present in underserved communities.

“At the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation, we understood the digital literacy gap and all of its vastness in Memphis. We felt that we had a role to play to close that gap,” Terrell said. CodeCrew has dedicated itself in Memphis schools to teaching coding and computer science through in-school elective programs, afterschool programs and summer camp programs.

The SILQ-EDU dashboard is another tech-driven way that Grizzlies Foundation and Grizz Prep ensure students are getting the whole network of care they need through comprehensive data.
Parker Couch, Grizz Prep principal and school director. (Rachel Warren)
Created by Memphians Borhan Samei and Allison Sheppard-Nokes, SILQ-EDU is a student dashboard that is being piloted by Grizzlies Foundation and incorporated into Grizz Prep. The program connects all student data, everything from academics to student behavior and reports from admin and staff, into one place. The program gives admin and staff the ability to track student progress through the stored data.

The SILQ dashboard also alerts admin and staff to a change in a student’s data, either negative or positive. SILQ-EDU gives educators an early warning that something has changed in that student compared to their previously recorded data.

Educators and community can intervene early and prevent a negative outcome.

“It’s a game changer,” Couch said, adding that he believes educational programming and mentoring driven by student data will become more and more commonplace in schools.

As the program captures more individualized student data, Grizz Prep, the Grizzlies Foundation and SILQ-EDU hope to see the program show schools a bigger picture of where students may be heading academically and socially.

One of the biggest changes at Grizz Prep has been the addition of a fifth-grade class. Couch says that the school saw a need to in its sixth graders for reading preparation. The school made the decision to open fifth-grade class to adequately prepare students for sixth grade, especially in reading proficiency.

The question of where to house a fifth-grade class was the only thing holding Grizz Prep back. Fortunately, the school’s neighbor Calvary Episcopal School bought the building next to Grizz Prep and has loaned it to the school for its fifth-grade facilities.

Missy Couch, Grizz Prep academic advisor, reported that 100 percent of Grizz Prep’s most recent class of eighth graders have applied to high school outside of their zoned school, indicating that Grizz Prep alumni students are invested in attending the school that fits them best not just attending where they have been zoned.

Missy also noted that it is a Grizz Prep priority to check on alumni after graduation. She stays in touch with alumni through school visits and online surveys.

“Our school mission ends with students becoming ‘equipped for success in high school, college and life.’ The only way to ensure that we have equipped our alumni for the next phases of their lives is to stay connected with them each step of the way,” Missy said.

Read more articles by Rachel Warren.

Rachel Warren is a freelance writer whose writing has appeared in RSVP Magazine and Focus Magazine in Memphis. She is a sales associate at the Peddler Bike Shop. Rachel likes riding bikes, playing roller derby, watching scary movies and writing about Memphis. 
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