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Why some MSCS second graders could be forced to repeat grade

MSCS said Friday, 481 second graders who did not meet the standard to move on to the next grade have not shown up to summer school, risking grade failure.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Shelby County Schools is pleading with parents to bring their kids to summer school. 

MSCS said there are 8,153 second-graders, and 4,064 or 56%, finished the school year needing to take summer classes to keep from being held back. As of Friday, 481 students haven't shown up. 

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MSCS superintendent Dr. Joris Ray said in a statement on Friday, "We want, no we need, the community's help in getting these recent second-graders in class Monday morning."

He said the free summer learning academy offers, "interventions and enrichments necessary for all of our students to excel. And the internal testing that we did this year proves that these interventions work when our families take advantage of them."

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The district's Chief Academic Officer, Jaron Carson, said "Our school leaders have reached out multiple times--through phone calls, emails, teacher notes, and text messages--to the families of students whom we know need extra interventions."

Carson also added, "We are committed to ensuring that all students can read before they enter third grade, which is why we offered before, during, and after school tutoring this school year and are now offering additional interventions through our Summer Learning Academy.”

Though the district said they have made multiple attempts to get students in the classroom, some community members like Renee Smith, the Director of Choice Counseling for Memphis Lift, feel MSCS can do more. 

"They said they called and texted, but somebody got to step out and step up. If it was my student I'd go knock on their door," Smith said.

Former MSCS second-grade teacher Karen Vogelsang agrees with Smith, explaining school leaders have to use all their resources to connect with parents.

"I know when I was in the classroom, I think we sometimes make assumptions about children and their parents, and caregivers but to find out why they aren't going to school is to ask them, ask the parents, talk to them about it," Vogelsang said.

Vogelsang is also the Executive Director at Arise2Read. She said if students are not reading on grade level by the third grade, they will not be able to comprehend anything for the remainder of their education. 

"Third grade is a very critical year," Vogelsang said. "And if we don't have children reading by the end of 4th-grade, the research tells us that 66% of students not reading by the end of fourth grade are going to need government assistance or going to be incarcerated. 

According to MSCS policy, students attending summer school must have a 90% attendance rate to be considered to move to the next grade level. Summer school started June 13 and ends July 15. 

Even if those missing students went to school for the next two and a half weeks, they wouldn't meet the attendance requirement. MSCS didn't say if that would be waived. 

MSCS said during the summer program, free transportation is provided to those who qualify, and all students get free meals and free devices. They are encouraging all families to communicate with the district so they can get children to the free summer learning academy. 

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