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VOL. 129 | NO. 142 | Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rising Up

Goal Card program boosts South Memphis students’ success

By Don Wade

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Adrienne Johnson remembers being stalked. It was actually a good thing. “I grew up in a single-parent home,” said Johnson, 35, today a financial analyst at International Paper and one of IP’s mentors in the RISE Foundation Goal Card program. “I was the first in my family to go to college. It was unrealistic (to attend college), not something I envisioned at all.”

Participants in the RISE Foundation Goal Card program include, from left, Hillrod Lumpkin, Adrienne Johnson, Traci Fleming, Stephanie Calvin, Brian Diggs, Karen Mitchell, Cassandra Cordingly and Anthony Perry. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

It became realistic when Johnson scored well on a standardized test. After that, she said, “One of the admissions counselors from MTSU stalked me for a couple of months.”

Johnson and other volunteers would like nothing more than to see this kind of story repeated. RISE’s Goal Card is a report card incentive program for students in elementary, middle and high schools in South Memphis’ 38126 ZIP code.

“Many of those kids have never been out of South Memphis,” said Johnson, who has been a mentor in the program for four years. “That’s amazing to me.”

Several hundred students are involved in Goal Card, which began in 2003. The most recent statistics on the program are from 2012, and updated stats are being compiled now, said RISE’s Goal Card coordinator, Ricco Mitchell.

The 2012 statistics show students in the program improve academically at about twice the rate of students not enrolled in the program. The program uses incentives, such as Wal-Mart gift cards and small electronic devices such as earphones and jump drives, to try and inspire students toward achievement. But Mitchell says the students that do best seem to have their own motivation.

“It’s more an inner drive to be successful,” Mitchell said.

Hillrod Lumpkin Jr., 24, is another IP financial analyst volunteering. Lumpkin was adopted and had a nice middle-class upbringing in Southfield, Mich., before going to Florida A&M University.

“I know firsthand what the effects of having love and positive energy can be,” he said.

Lumpkin says the first job as an adult mentor is to approach the kids with ears wide open.

“A lot of them have family issues,” he said. “They don’t have anybody listening to them.”

Lumpkin and Johnson are primarily working with students at Booker T. Washington High School. Johnson says that, in general, the girls are more serious and have a better idea what they want to do, while the boys are more likely to “get caught up in their surroundings.”

The mentors’ overriding message: There is hope. You can change your circumstances.

“You can go from Point A to Point B,” Lumpkin said. “The possibilities are endless.”

Certainly they were for one young girl with a GPA over 4.0 and a great standardized test score; Johnson says she is headed to Vanderbilt.

But Johnson also recalls the boy who had made a 10 on his ACT and figured his only option was to sell drugs on the street corner.

“Don’t be a dope boy,” Johnson said she told him. “You’ve got to be good at math to be a dope boy.”

As a young African-American male, Lumpkin knows his very presence can be motivating – “just because they know it’s possible” to go to school and get a good job.

Johnson also recalls the time an IP executive had a get-together at her home for the Goal Card students. They weren’t just outside of South Memphis; they were entering a new universe.

“We had to make them eat shrimp,” Johnson said, laughing at the memory. “A lot of them had never eaten shrimp, and we told them, ‘You may never get the chance again.’”

Or then again, they might. Eating shrimp gave them yet another small taste of the possible.

“If you don’t know what’s out there,” Johnson said, “how can you dream for it?”

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