In some cities, students have the option of attending the school of their choice, including private schools, but tuition can often be a financial obstacle that stands in the way.  For students in the Memphis, Tennessee area, one organization is helping students overcome that hurdle by providing partial scholarships to families with demonstrated financial need.  Since 1998, Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust, or MOST, has awarded scholarships to more than 3,000 prekindergarten through grade 12 students.  By providing partial scholarships, MOST works hand-in-hand with parents and schools in giving children access to an education of their choosing.

Courtney Shove, director of communications, discusses how MOST’s scholarships help students with their education and what that means for the Memphis-area communities.

What is your role with MOST? What do you enjoy about your work?

As the director of communications, I am privileged to help tell the stories of MOST Scholars past and present. Just the other day, I received an email from an alumna who will start law school in the fall. She is especially interested in community development and has started a nonprofit to help build up the neighborhood where she grew up. I’m happy to know that MOST scholars are investing in the community that has invested in them.

How does MOST help Memphis-area families with their children’s educations?

Education is not one-size-fits-all, yet not all parents have the same choices when it comes to schools for their kids. By offering partial, need-based scholarships, MOST puts private education within reach for parents who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

Who is eligible to receive a MOST scholarship? What kind of schools partner with MOST?

To submit a pre-application for a new scholarship, a student must be a resident of Shelby County, Tennessee; be entering PK3, PK4, kindergarten, or grade 1 (or a student entering grades 2–8 who has documented special needs) in the school year following the pre-application period; and belong to a household whose income falls within our eligibility guidelines. Each year, we receive hundreds more pre-applications that we can fund, so we award new scholarships by lottery. Once a student receives a MOST scholarship, he or she can remain on the program through grade 8, as long as the family is still financially eligible. During the second semester of grade 8, current MOST Scholars can apply for the merit-based MOST High School Scholars Program, as long as their families remain financially eligible.

MOST scholarships can be used toward tuition at 72 partner schools in the Memphis area. They range from single-sex, religiously affiliated schools to coed, secular ones and almost everything in between. Some of the schools also have special curricula (e.g. International Baccalaureate, Montessori, or classical education) or programs for students with learning disabilities. For a full list of our partner schools, click here.

What is something most people don’t know about MOST?

MOST is the only privately funded school-choice program in the Mid-South. Since its founding in 1998, MOST has awarded $17.6 million in scholarships to more than 3,000 students.

What is your biggest fundraising challenge?

The educational landscape in the Memphis area has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Shelby County now has six public school districts, dozens of charter schools, and about 100 private schools. The pool for educational philanthropy is spread thin, and many of the same donors are being asked to support numerous educational initiatives.

What special events are in the near future for MOST?

During the 2017-2018 school year, we will celebrate our 20th anniversary. In August, we will partner with Royal Furniture on a back-to-school community sales day. Not only will Royal Furniture help promote the MOST program, but the company will also donate a portion of the day’s sales to MOST.

How can people get involved with MOST’s efforts to help students with their education?

In addition to joining our mailing list, our friends can support MOST in large and small ways. Each October, we host the MOST Classic golf tournament, which raises more than $100,000 for children’s scholarships, and we’re always looking for new sponsors for this event. On a smaller scale, we love having people support us through AmazonSmile purchases, by linking their Kroger and Superlo Foods shopping cards to MOST, and of course, by signing up to support us through CaringCent.

What can you tell someone who is thinking about donating to MOST?

When you give to MOST, you are supporting the idea that all children deserve an equal chance at a great education — regardless of their ZIP codes or financial circumstances. For the 2017-2018 school year, we received pre-applications for 809 new students, and we were only able to fund 95 (in addition to our returning scholars). The demand is high for affordable quality education in Memphis. Your donation will go directly to children’s scholarships and help us meet that demand.

If you’d like to support MOST, click here to learn more.

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