In November 2001, Doris Thomas Hill convened a group of concerned citizens to discuss the Memphis City Schools high dropout rate and the problem of low performing children in our community. She stressed the need to proactively address a problem that was spiraling out of control. She challenged the group to be a part of an intervention effort to turn this problem around. The Education Scholarship Preparation Nurture (ESPN) Academy began as a tutorial program to improve the high school graduation rate and to increase the number of children who could compete on grade level.
For 2 to 3 days per week, certified teachers and tutors provided church and community children an opportunity for academic enrichment and social development in the company of responsible, nurturing adults. The program's original staff consisted of a volunteer principal and tutors.
The program received full endorsement and support from the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. The church's pastor at the inception of the program was the late Dr. Alfred DeWayne Hill who was also the husband of Doris Thomas Hill. He adopted the program as an outreach ministry of the church. Dr. A. McKinley Royal,the past Senior Pastor/Teacher has supported the program and has expanded the church's reach to the community by offering many other programs and opportunities that involve and benefit school-age children.
On a busy August afternoon in 2006, ESPN Academy teachers knocked on doors in South Memphis looking for school-age children who needed help with their school work. We also sought out kids who simply needed some place to go so that they wouldn't have to stay at home alone. With crime on the rise and children being exposed to and influenced by all types of criminal activity and negative behavior, providing children a safe place was critical. Research confirms that most juvenile crime occurs during the three hours immediately after school.
The risk of experimenting with drugs, alcohol, tobacco or sexual behavior increases with the amount of time children spend alone. Since the average household income of the children we serve is below the poverty level, it is important that free after-school care is provided to neighborhood families. Working parents and their children depend on us to be there for them.
In October 2006, the ESPN Academy was expanded to an after-school program to address the increasing number of children who needed academic support, as well as the critical need for a safe and positive environment for children to spend their after-school time. After-school programs have been proven to improve grades and interest in school, as well as boost self-esteem. Certified teachers and tutors are committed to the education, safety, and welfare of all of the children we serve. Because of their efforts, incredible improvement is seen in academics, social interaction, conflict resolution, and problem solving skills.
The ESPN Academy is a non-profit, highly recognized, quality academic enrichment program. It serves school-age children through high school on Monday through Friday from 4:15 to 6 p.m. Children participate in age-appropriate education and enrichment opportunities that enhance their educational and social development. Ruth Hicks is the current Director of the ESPN Academy.