If you build it, they will come.

Photograph of a cornfield with stadium lights, power lines, and a blue sky with puffy clouds.

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

One of my favorite movies when I was a kid was Field of Dreams (1989).  If you haven’t seen it, the basis is a bunch of baseball ghosts start appearing in Kevin Costner’s corn field.  In order to find answers to the obvious question of why are there baseball ghosts in the corn field, he goes on an adventure to seek out the expertise of James Earl Jones, and ends up building a baseball diamond in the middle of his farm in Iowa. More ghosts of sluggers past show up–not to haunt, but to play ball.  Even though the movie is close to 30 years old, I won’t entirely spoil it for you, but I do want to give you the big takeaway:

If you build it, they will come.

Another way to say this is, “If you create supply, people have a chance to demand that supply.”  Especially when something new is created, people may not have known they wanted that product or service until they had the opportunity to consume it.  Did we want the iPhone before it was invented?  Or how about cable television?  Snuggies?  Probably not.  However, once something exciting, fun, or useful hits the market, people demand it, which requires greater supply, and so on. The economic principle of scarcity, within reason, spurs growth.

Education is considered a public good–something we all contribute to, can use, and do benefit from.  However, because we live in an imperfect world where there is never enough money or time to do as we please, we cannot hide from the fact that scarcity exists within our public education system.

Recently, Shelby County Schools announced the Superintendent’s Summer Learning Academies, which are programs at primarily Critical Focus schools for children on Tiers 2 & 3 of the RTI scale who may struggle academically or socially.  When we talk about ensuring public goods meet the needs of people who are most in need, these students and schools are those who need the most support.  The district originally planned for 5,000 young people to participate, but that number has been exceeded by a lot.  8,000 applications were received by the April 10 deadline.

“If you build it, they will come,” indeed.

According to SCS, the school operations team is currently reviewing applications and determining how to respond to the unexpected demand, including considering more school sites.  In an ideal world, SCS would be able to open up spots for all qualified applicants who request a spot within an extended timeline. Our world is not ideal, though.  Money doesn’t grow on trees, and programs take time to develop.

The fact is, some students who really need the support will miss out this year.  However, that shouldn’t cast a shadow on SCS’ transformative new summer program.  Thousands of young people will receive the programming they need to help them succeed this summer.  Thousands of kiddos will have somewhere safe to go almost every day.  That is something to be celebrated.

Ultimately, we can best celebrate this success of, and deal with the scarcity and shortage of spots in, this program by taking an active role to lay groundwork for the future.  It doesn’t take money, and it doesn’t take a lot of time, but your individual and group actions can mean real change for the children of Shelby County.  If you want to do something to address the shortages in the number of and access to high-quality educational opportunities, here are some ideas:

  • If your child qualifies for this program and you haven’t yet applied, please reach out to SCS at 901-416-5300.  As my mom says, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”  It doesn’t hurt to ask.  Even if your child is unable to participate this summer, letting SCS know the amount of demand they have for this program will help them plan for next year.  That matters.
  • Shameless promotion: Memphis School Guide has a list of summer programming that is being updated as more information comes in.  Some of the programming is free, while other programs have a cost.  Some provide academic support, and others focus on the fun that summer can bring.  We hope that you’ll find something there that can meet your family’s needs this summer.
  • Programming doesn’t happen without funds.  Currently, there is a comprehensive group of individuals and organizations called Fund Students First that has come together in the name of supporting education initiatives for young people.  Recently, they petitioned Mayor Jim Strickland for support for schools and community centers.  This Tuesday, April 25 at 3:30 PM, Fund Students First will be among many people attending the mayor’s budget presentation at City Hall to advocate for better funding for programs that enrich the lives of young people, both in school and out. Fund Students First would greatly appreciate your presence at the presentation and/or your signature on the petition.

As always, the folks behind Memphis School Guide are an open book.  If you have questions or ideas, please feel free to email us at hello@memphisschoolguide.org.