Terence Patterson, president/CEO of the Memphis Education Foundation, with his son, Trey. (Courtesy photo)

by Terence Patterson —

Growing up, I, like most children, spent each holiday season anticipating the arrival of a bearded, big-bellied white man who would slide my favorite Christmas gifts down the chimney that we didn’t even have. My biggest worry back then was whether my behavior would block the Christmas Eve delivery!

Now, raising my son, I have a different concern. Yes, I still tell him about the sled, reindeer and even the chimney, but I’ve chosen to expose him to a broader version of who Santa is, knowing that representation matters.

Our Memphis Education Fund (MEF) team asks parents to add reading and representation to their child’s Christmas list this year. Research shows that students perform better in school when they have someone who looks like them teaching the class. That fact holds true, even over the holidays. 

So, on December 22, we’ve requested a “special” Santa visit for the Greater Memphis and Shelby County students. We all know jolly old St. Nick visits every neighborhood, but this stop is meant to drop off more than toys. This time, he’ll drop off the gift of a better future. 

Like representation, early literacy is critical for student success. Students in Shelby County were already struggling in this area, with less than a third of students performing on grade-level during the most recent testing period. The pandemic further exacerbated the issue of learning loss. And time off for holidays and summer can cause further slides in learning. 

Therefore, parents are encouraged to turn TV time into reading fun. And, reading to children is one of the best ways to guide them toward reading regularly on their own. 

To help get kids reading over the break, MEF is hosting a virtual Storytime with Santa on December 22 at 5 p.m. The virtual event is free for any student (Pre-K to 6th grade) to attend, just register here.

We all appreciate Santa’s support in helping with holiday behavior and storytime. However, as a parent myself, I realize that raising and supporting my child and our community’s children is a responsibility we should share.

Incorporating reading and representation in our daily lives is a great start.

‘Tis the season and here’s to our children seeing a familiar, jolly Old St. Nick!

(Terence Patterson is president/CEO of the Memphis Education Foundation.)