The Soulsville Charter School announced today that its poverty-fighting efforts have been validated by Slingshot Memphis, an independent assessor of poverty-fighting impact. The recognition comes after a rigorous, data-driven impact study carried out by Slingshot working in tandem with the school. The results of the impact study were accompanied by an investment of $110,000 from Slingshot’s Impact Accelerator Fund, which helps organizations in Memphis amplify their poverty-fighting impact and address opportunities for growth.
An entity of the Soulsville Foundation – along with the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Stax Music Academy, all located at the original site of Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee and all committed to a culture of performance measurement and using evidence based models to continuously improve their work – The Soulsville Charter School has a long record of success in graduation and college acceptance rates among its students, with 100 percent of all seniors being accepted to post-secondary educational institutions since it began having graduating classes in 2012.
In addition to myriad efforts to prepare Soulsville students for higher education, graduates also receive support while in college from the school’s College and Alumni Support Team (CAST); the counselors provide support ranging from in-person college visits and arranging internships to assistance with navigating campus policies, taking advantage of financial resources, and other support and consistent communication to help them persist in their postsecondary pathways through completion and beyond.
Stephani Brownlee, a 2013 graduate of The Soulsville Charter School, grew up near the school in South Memphis. Despite the challenges she faced, including losing her mother at a young age and having to take on numerous extra duties when her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, she says it was The Soulsville Charter School that kept her encouraged even when she felt like giving up.
“The teachers and administrators simply would not let me become another statistic in the generational cycle of poverty,” she says. “They allowed me to write and conduct my own symphony, sent me to the White House, had me featured on national television on the Today show, helped me attend boarding schools during the summer through the Summer Growth Experience program, and helped me earn a scholarship to Brown University, where I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in forensic science.”
Brownlee went on to earn a Master’s Degree in criminal justice studies from Florida State University and worked as a criminal intelligence analyst for the United States Department of Justice. She is now an employee of the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. and is earning her second Master’s Degree, this time from Harvard University. In 2018 she became the first Soulsville Charter School graduate to come back and deliver the graduation commencement address. And in 2020 she started her own branding and marking firm, MoKup.
“I don’t think any of this would have been possible without the support I received while attending The Soulsville Charter School,” Brownlee added, “and the support they provided me while attending college and to this day. I feel like I am part of a big family and I’m not at all surprised by this recognition they are getting.”
The primary poverty-fighting benefits experienced by Brownlee and hundreds of other TSCS graduates, according to Slingshot Memphis CEO Justin Miller, are lower dropout rates, higher college persistence, and increased earning potential.
“Slingshot’s impact study found that The Soulsville Charter School’s estimated poverty-fighting benefits substantially exceed the costs,” said Jared Barnett, Slingshot’s Managing Director for Measurement. “The Soulsville Charter School consistently applies evidence-based best practices and has developed several innovative approaches to help prepare its students for post-secondary opportunities.”
“The Soulsville Charter School is honored to be Slingshot’s first school partner among the many nonprofits with whom they work,” said The Soulsville Charter School’s Executive Director NeShante Brown. “We entered the assessment process with excited anticipation of the opportunity for reflection and growth, and we are very happy with the results. We look forward to Slingshot’s continued engagement with Soulsville as we enhance our poverty-fighting impact.”
New York-based education and social policy research organization MDRC participated in the assessment of The Soulsville Charter School. In a consulting role, MDRC brought additional education expertise to the assessment process while also generating feedback for Slingshot about the process itself.
William Corrin, Director of K-12 Education at MDRC, commented, “Being able to partner with Slingshot on this assessment of The Soulsville Charter School was a great experience. By engaging in the assessment, The Soulsville Charter School leadership demonstrated both their commitment to candidly sharing the details of their efforts to support young people and their openness to receiving constructive feedback about their work.
About MDRC’s partnership with Slingshot Memphis, Corrin added, “It’s valuable for Memphis to have an organization like Slingshot that is focused on strengthening the community by building knowledge about local organizations and offering them independent feedback to inform their improvement efforts. Slingshot’s assessment of The Soulsville Charter School yielded a reflective report that highlights the school’s strengths while offering actionable ideas about how to get stronger.”
About The Soulsville Charter School
The Soulsville Charter School is a public charter school serving over 650 students in grades 6 through 12 daily. Our mission is to prepare students for success in college and life in an academically rigorous, music-rich environment. A U.S. News and World Report nationally ranked high school and 2015 SCORE prizewinner for leading student learning in Tennessee, The Soulsville Charter School was also among 80 schools nationally to be recognized in 2021 for excellence in music education by the NAMM Foundation. To learn more about The Soulsville Charter School, visit www.soulsvillecharterschool.org.
About Slingshot Memphis
Slingshot Memphis is a poverty-fighting center of influence that’s igniting a movement to revolutionize the fight against poverty in Memphis. Its objective impact study measures the effectiveness of poverty-fighting organizations – celebrating what works while uncovering opportunities to further enhance impact. Slingshot’s evidence-based approach empowers resources – financial and otherwise – to be directed toward solutions that produce the greatest outcomes for our neighbors experiencing poverty. To learn more about Slingshot, visit www.slingshotmemphis.org.
MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, is committed to finding solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing the nation — from reducing poverty and bolstering economic self-sufficiency to improving public education and college graduation rates. MDRC designs promising new interventions, evaluates existing programs using the highest research standards, and provides technical assistance to build better programs and deliver effective interventions at scale. To learn more about MDRC, visit www.mdrc.org.
To review the impact study, click here.