UofM, Porter-Leath, RedZone to break ground in Orange Mound

Oct. 8, 2020 — The University of Memphis and Porter-Leath are partnering to launch a new, innovative Early Childhood Academy located alongside the Orange Mound neighborhood’s RedZone Ministries. The Academy is designed to help address a critical need for early childhood care in the Memphis community.

Construction and design plans are being finalized with the support of $15 million raised in private contributions. Groundbreaking is scheduled for Oct. 28.

The partnership will provide a research-based educational facility to serve children ages 6 weeks through 5 years old, where care is most crucial and underprovided in Shelby County. The Early Childhood Academy will feature state-of-the-art research and observation technology, wraparound services for children and families, child-centered and developmentally appropriate spaces for learning and training facilities for current and prospective early childhood practitioners.

“The University is excited to partner with Porter-Leath and RedZone, and we look forward to extending the University further into the Orange Mound community,” said Sally Parish, UofM associate vice president for educational initiatives. “The impact of this project is significant, not only in providing quality early childhood care and wraparound support for children and families in our community, but also on the research, practice and laboratory education it provides for the field of child development, particularly in urban education settings.”

The site will feature 18 classrooms that will serve nearly 300 local children. The site design has been inspired by the community and neighborhood traditions of Orange Mound. Through intentional design, the space should evoke feelings of community and home with unique features like the addition of a front-porch façade on each classroom that opens into a natural playscape designed to promote play-based learning.

The Academy will also feature works of local artists in its “Main Street” lobby, as a way to highlight the rich artistic and cultural heritage of Orange Mound. An open proposal process inviting local artists to make presentations for consideration in the academy will be announced soon.  

“Through a partnership with the UofM Child Development & Family Studies program, the Early Childhood Academy will provide a state-of-the-art facility to prepare future early care and learning professionals through observations and in-classroom practice as well as experience working with families of young children,” said Dr. Loretta Rudd, UofM clinical associate professor and program coordinator, Child Development & Family Studies. 

“We expect that graduates of the CDFS Early Care and Learning, Early Intervention Specialist and Pre-School and Childcare Administration degree programs will have a significant impact on the profession given their opportunity to observe and train in this world-class facility.”   

Porter-Leath has been dedicated to empowering children and families to achieve a healthy, optimal and independent lifestyle for more than 170 years. The agency now serves more than 10,000 children and families each year through their program focus areas that are designed to meet developmental, health and social needs at the earliest opportunity. 

“Porter-Leath is thrilled to partner with the University of Memphis and RedZone Ministries to not only provide world-class facilities, but also deepen our continuum of support for children and families in the Orange Mound neighborhood,” said Sean Lee, Porter-Leath President. "Families will be supported, children will be prepared for kindergarten success, early childhood teachers will be developed and a vital neighborhood will be strengthened by our partnership.” 

The preschool will serve 48 Early Head Start children and 200 preschool-aged children. Porter-Leath has submitted a plan to Shelby County Schools, the Head Start grantee, to transfer students from the nearby Hanley Head Start Center in Orange Mound.

In addition to Head Start and Early Head Start spaces, a select number of childcare spaces will be reserved at the Early Childhood Academy for UofM students, faculty and staff. The new Center is the latest in a series of additions and expansions to the University Schools educational compendium which seeks to provide the children of our community with educational experiences that enhance their development from birth to graduation and promote dynamic research, collaborative partnerships and innovative practices. Through the addition of this Center, the UofM will reach more than 1,000 children from birth to graduation through five University Schools.

“We are encouraged by our progress and are grateful for the partnerships established with Porter-Leath and the University of Memphis,” said Howard Eddings, RedZone CEO. “As we have creatively worked to be a part of the transformational work that’s taking place in the lives of children, families and the Orange Mound community, we believe this collaboration will certainly be a value add to the neighborhood, serve to build additional assets and will leverage additional resources as well.”  

A limited, socially distanced groundbreaking ceremony will be hosted on-site on Oct. 28 at 9 a.m. and will also be made available to the public online.

For more information, email sally.parish@memphis.edu.