Literacy Mid-South Promoting Lifelong Learning here in Memphis

Tony Allen unwittingly captured the spirit of Memphis with his now famous quote: “It’s all heart. Grit and Grind”. It’s true – Memphis is all heart and we Memphians grind harder than most just to make it. This is evident even when it comes to literacy. In Memphis, 1 in 7 adults do not read above a 6th grade level and, on top of that, only 24.1% of students complete the 3rd grade reading on grade level. The struggles that come with low literacy are far-reaching, straining not only the individual but the entire community.

Imagine that after a long job hunt, you’ve landed a position with great benefits. After three months with the company, you attend a benefit enrollment session. The HR representative gives you a heavy packet and says all needed information can be found inside. What would you do if you couldn’t read the information provided? Would you ask for help in a room filled with your coworkers or stay silent? Would you take a guess at the best option hoping it’s the right plan for you and your family?

Basic literacy skills are required to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Think about reading prescription labels, medical paperwork, and job applications. The ability to read and write at a 6th-grade level is a quality of life issue affecting more than 100,000 adults in our community.

The ability to read and write at a 6th-grade level is a quality of life issue affecting more than 100,000 adults in our community.

Now, imagine you’re a 4th grader who reads on a 2nd grade level. You’ve managed to make it this far despite the stress, anxiety, and isolation that often comes with low literacy. What would you do if the language on your standardized test, in your textbook, and your daily worksheet was too difficult to understand? What if your parents also read at a 2nd grade level? Would you become the class clown so everyone would focus on your behavior and not your schoolwork?

76% of 4th graders in Shelby County left 3rd grade without reading on grade level. 3rd grade is the final year students are taught to read. It is assumed and expected that all students are reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Shelby County.

Literacy Mid-South is transforming Grind City into a community engaged in lifelong learning.

Literacy Mid-South provides education resources to children and adults of all ages and backgrounds. They serve as a literacy hub for local nonprofits by providing them with the tools needed to influence literacy education in Memphis. Literacy Mid-South provides a platform for local organizations to collaborate and maximize their impact on the community. They address low literacy through two programs: The Adult Learning Program and Read901.

Literacy Mid-South is the only organization in Memphis providing adult basic education services to the 100,000+ adults reading at or below a 6th-grade level. They have a dedicated team of 250+ trained volunteer tutors facilitating both one-on-one and classroom sessions for over 600 Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning learners. More than 80% of learners have reached their personal and academic goals.

The Adult Learning Program supports learners like Darlene, who dreams of one day becoming a Pharmacy Technician. Darlene always knew she struggled with reading, but never imagined she was on a 3rd grade level until entering the Adult Learning Program. Darlene was matched with a one-on-one tutor and quickly began making progress. She moved up 3 reading levels every year for four years and exited the program reading at a 10th-grade level!

Read901 is a citywide initiative on one of the most important indicators of academic success: grade-level reading by the end of 3rd grade. Read901 combines the strength of community-based organizations, funders, city agencies, and corporations around 3rd grade reading proficiency. Through partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club, Memphis Athletic Ministries, the Refugee Empowerment Program, Streets Ministries, and many others, Read 901 provides out of school time literacy education to over 3,500 students in Shelby County.

Read901 helps partner organizations bridge the gap between student’s current reading levels and their academic success. Without their support, students like 9-year-old old Sandibel would continue to fall behind in school. When Sandibel entered the program, she tested at a very low reading level. She has since made great strides, even surpassing some of the students that entered the program with her. Now, Sanidibel has empowered herself to become an extremely successful reader and wants to be a police officer one day. Her love of reading has also impacted her family. Sandibel reads a bedtime story to her two baby brothers every night! A love of reading like Sandibel’s is contagious, and Literacy Mid-South is helping it spread to every corner of the city.

Want to join Literacy Mid-South in transforming Grind City into a community actively engaged in lifelong learning? Click Here to get involved!

Sign up to participate in the upcoming New Tutor Training Session on November 10th.

Visit their website at to learn more or contact the Literacy Mid-South Team.

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