Orange Mound

"World-class" early childhood education center will open soon in Orange Mound

“The community can expect to see a world-class facility outside. They can expect to see a world-class facility inside.” Porter-Leath President Sean Lee
If you have been down Park Avenue recently, the new building construction going up near Pendleton Street is hard to miss.

Porter-Leath and the University of Memphis have partnered to bring a state-of-the-art early childhood learning facility to the heart of Orange Mound.

The facility’s official name is Porter-Leath and University of Memphis Early Childhood Academy at Orange Mound. It is located at 2869 Park Avenue.

“With the number of families having young children in the Orange Mound neighborhood and its proximity to the University of Memphis, this was an ideal location to provide access to high-quality early childhood education,” said Porter-Leath Instructional Coach Envolyn Rinex.

The academy will be able to serve 288 children across 18 classrooms.

“The community can expect to see a world-class facility outside. They can expect to see a world-class facility inside,” said Porter-Leath’s President Sean Lee.

“The goal is to make every parent in the neighborhood have their child ready and prepared for kindergarten,” Lee added. 

When speaking about the unique design of the building, Lee mentioned including the community’s perspective in the process, so as not to neglect the sense of community and identity of Orange Mound.
The Porter-Leath and University of Memphis Early Childhood Academy at Orange Mound is currently under construction at 2869 Park Avenue and expected to open in January 2022. (Alexandria Moore)
The goal is for the facility to have more of a home-like familiarity and feel less like a community or childcare center. All classrooms will have a porch. There are high ceilings inside. Local artists also gave design input.

Equally important, the center will provide all children with a USDA-approved breakfast, lunch, and snack prepared daily onsite. This will help ensure the children are well nourished and ready to learn.

With a total budget of $15.5 for the project, the facility alone costs $12.2 million. All funding came from private donors.

The expected completion is October 31. Its leaders expect the academy to open January 22, 2022.

Those interested in applying for the school should visit Students who are between the ages of six weeks and five years by January are eligible. Families do not have to live in Orange Mound to enroll.

Sterling Key stands opposite the new Porter-Leath and U of M early childhood center in Orange Mound. She points and talks about the development with two-year-old daughter, Amirah. (Alexandria Moore)
The Children are Our Future
Sterling Key is a 2014 honors graduate of Melrose High School. She lives on Laurel Street across from the new academy development. She is passionate about the work she does as a beauty influencer. However, her favorite part of day is when she's with her two-year-old daughter Amirah.

“I hope this [new] school continues to strengthen the bond between the community and our children, while teaching them the useful tools they need in their adult lives,” said Key.

Key’s mother has been a Memphis schoolteacher for 21 years. Together, they have already taught Amirah the alphabet, colors, shapes, and animal names and sounds, to name a few.

“Early education is important because it’s easy to mold a younger mind,” said Key. “If we instill certain ethics in our children now, it’ll be easier to update if needed later. Not just academically but morally as well.”

Beyond Compare
Unique to Porter-Leath Academies is its Teacher Excellence Program. 

The program’s mission is to add to teachers' school room experiences and strengthen their skill sets and classroom practices, resulting in a reduction of the “achievement gap” for children in low socio-economic environments. This reduction will help to place those children on a trajectory for success in school and in life.

“Key components of Porter-Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program include building relationships with early childhood educators to enhance their teaching skills through strategic coaching and hands-on modeling for the teachers in the classroom,” said Instructional Coach Nicole Williams.

Early childhood educators work with children ages six weeks to six years old in settings like childcare centers and home-based day cares.

The Teacher Excellence Program is in line with Porter-Leath’s larger mission of empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal, and independent lifestyle.

Enhancement of instructional practices through evidence-based instructional support, ensuring that developmentally appropriate practices are evident and utilized, and building and strengthening the quality of teacher-student interactions through communication and higher-order processes are some of the key components of the Teacher Excellence Program.

“The teacher’s ability to provide emotional support for the preschool student, as well as classroom instruction, are two topics that we emphasize during coaching,” said Williams.

The Porter-Leath and University of Memphis Early Childhood Academy at Orange Mound promises to provide that same access to local, high-quality early childhood education. 

“As part of this work, the Teacher Excellence Program will ensure that teachers have coaching and support to meet the needs of the families and children in the area,” Williams concluded.
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Read more articles by Alexandria Moore.

Alexandria Moore is a healthcare professional and freelance writer. Moore is a resident of Orange Mound and graduate of the first High Ground News Community Correspondents program.