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Ahead of Tom Lee Park re-opening, Memphis River Parks hires City Councilwoman as first-ever education director

The Memphis River Parks Partnership said Michalyn Easter-Thomas will grow educational partnerships in the city, and adopt riverfront-related STEM curriculum.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — With an official re-opening of downtown Memphis' Tom Lee Park set for Labor Day Weekend, Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRRP), who operates the park, announced new education initiatives for Memphis students Friday.

Building on significant new investment in the riverfront to create learning and career opportunities for young Memphians, Memphis River Parks Partnership has named Memphis City Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas its first Director of Education Initiatives and Strategic Partnerships.

“This is the next chapter of Tom Lee Park,” said Carol Coletta, president and CEO of Memphis River Parks. “We are building the next generation of urban environmental advocates in Memphis – to protect, preserve and conserve our riverfront.”

MRRP said Easter-Thomas will lead a portfolio of work that includes opportunities for every Shelby County student to visit the riverfront, participate in citizen science workshops in riverfront parks, and adopt riverfront-related STEM curriculum in the classroom. 

Additionally, MRRP said Easter-Thomas will establish programs that welcome teen volunteers on the riverfront, create internships for teens and young adults, and offer of stackable certificates.

Easter-Thomas earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, her Master of Arts in Secondary Schooling from Columbia University in New York, and her Education Specialist degree (Ed.S) from Arkansas State University. She will receive her Doctorate in K-12 Administration and Policy from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. 

She also sits on the Memphis City Council representing District 7 and was most recently an instructional facilitator and coordinator of advanced academics at Overton High School.

MRRP said in addition to working with schools to enable middle and high school education and volunteer opportunities, Easter-Thomas will curate an initiative that enables green careers following high school for those who are not immediately college-bound.

“We now have a clear path for earning post-secondary certifications in green sectors that must now be aligned to the curricular, accessibility, and scheduling needs of high school students in Shelby County,” said Easter-Thomas. “Memphis will become a model example for regional and national organizations that are currently in search of how their mission can expand and connect to education and career options for young citizens.”

Memphis River Parks said they are converting the north side of Beale Street Landing to be used as a learning, training and environmental center called “Confluence.” It will tell the story of the park and Tom Lee, with a focus on our local climate challenges and opportunities. 

Visitors to the park, including school and tour groups, can use Confluence as their introduction to the park and to the many collaborative citizen science activities they can participate in while enjoying the park.

This new work on education initiatives, including salaries and student support, will be funded with grants specifically raised for this purpose, Memphis River Parks said.

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