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All heart. Grit and Grind.

This saying is often heard throughout the city of Memphis about their beloved Memphis Grizzlies. A motto that transcends the NBA and serves as a way of life for the people of Memphis. To say that the Memphis Grizzlies are a cornerstone to the Memphis community would be an understatement. Memphis residents live and breathe this motto: All Heart. Grit and Grind.

There’s another group of people who give their all – the City Year AmeriCorps members who work tirelessly to support their students in three key areas: attendance, behavior and coursework in math and English. Consistently attending school is critical to a student’s success, but at some schools where City Year serves, many students struggle to maintain good attendance.

 “Working at a high-needs school, we are acutely aware of how detrimental missing school can be for academic and social development,” says Annie Stuckslager, a third-grade teacher at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary School. “My homeroom had an average of eight tardies daily and five or more absences weekly at the beginning of the school year. This meant that way too many students were losing essential learning time in core subjects.” She shares how the City Year Memphis AmeriCorps member, Kai Jones, with whom she works regularly in her classroom found a way to improve attendance for not only her students but also for the entire third grade.

Kai began to work on a solution for the best way to get students to show up, on time, to school. “Kai figured out the ‘why’ of the absences,” Annie explained. “She spoke individually with the students to garner why they were late and/or missed school, then she took the time to contact the students’ families.”

Annie was impressed with the solution. “Kai thought about what would motivate the students and created a weekly incentive that the classroom with the highest attendance would earn ‘Mr. Grizz’ for the week.” Mr. Grizz is a traveling stuffed bear who represents the mascot of the Memphis Grizzlies named Grizz. “Her idea had students invested, and made a connection to the community of Memphis that motivated the students and got them excited about coming to school.” When students show up to school, whether they’re having a great day or the opposite, seeing that visual reward and connecting it to something that excites them is a great way to reinforce their positive behavior.

A student holding Mr. Grizz, a teddy bear that represents the NBA Memphis Grizzles, that his class won through a competition that his City Year Memphis AmeriCorps member, Kai Jones, started to improve attendance at KIPP Collegiate Elementary School in Memphis, TN. Ultimately, Kai’s attendance initiative is working well for the students at KIPP Collegiate Elementary (KIPPSters as the school community calls them) in Memphis, Tennessee. “[When] my classroom won Mr. Grizz, you should have heard the screams of excitement from my students,” Annie recalls. “It was by no means an easy feat, but Kai worked nonstop to make sure our KIPPSters arrived to school daily and on time.” The competition also taught the students the importance of teamwork as they had to work together to keep each other accountable to show up to school in order to collectively win Mr. Grizz.

In the first half of the school year and the school’s first year working with City Year AmeriCorps members, Annie has noticed the improvement in her students with regards to attendance. She's also seen improvement in behavior and coursework grades. “The positive improvement in behavior, academics and attendance has already exceeded my expectations in the five short months we have worked alongside City Year,” Annie says. “It has been wonderful to have a partner in this work who cares about the students and their learning community. So, thank you City Year; the tireless work of the City Year Memphis AmeriCorps members does not go unnoticed!”


As a City Year AmeriCorps member, you will constantly use creativity in order to keep students engaged and on the right path to a successful school year. While City Year provides many tools and methods that you’ll use to support your students, using your own creativity according to the personalities of the students you’re working to motivate and inspire will go a long way, and you’ll find yourself being in the driver’s seat of stories just like this one.

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