Doris Thomas Hill envisioned a school in Jamaica that would mirror her successful, tutorial program at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church.
On April 13, the dedication and ribbon-cutting of The Keith Primary School in the Hill-Robinson Building was the realization of a two-decades-old dream.
Hill opened The Education Scholarship Preparation Nurture (ESPN) Academy in 2001, with the full approval of her husband and pastor, Dr. Alfred DeWayne Hill Sr.
Pastor Hill was so enthusiastic about the program that he made the institute part of the church’s community outreach.
When Dr. Hill was tragically killed in 2002, his wife continued the work of ESPN, expanding the vision to Jamaica because of Dr. Hill’s desire to extend the church’s outreach efforts to Jamaica and the West Indies.
In 2019, Doris Hill lost her fight with congestive heart failure. Loved ones and her church family remembered that she worked tirelessly, gathering donations of money and supplies to ship over to the school and ministry where she and Dr. Hill had provided so many resources for nearly two decades.
Doris Hill’s building opened posthumously, but goddaughter and ESPN Principal Evidane Slaughter traveled to Jamaica for the happy occasion.
“My husband, Brandon, and I went to Jamaica for the dedication and ribbon-cutting of The Hill-Robinson Building,” said Slaughter. “The building is equipped with a Literacy Room, an All-Boys’ Classroom, and Community Room. A project in the making for over 20 years has come to life, and the legacy of our beloved founders lives on in Jamaica.”
Dr. Amos Jones, president of the National Association of Christian Educators (NACE), partnered with Doris Hill to bring the new school building to fruition.
Jones has sponsored and led numerous mission trips to Jamaica for ministers and laypeople, alike. Jones made a very generous donation on behalf of NACE.
“When we lost Dr. Hill, I made a promise that when we completed the school, I would make sure he was honored,” said Jones. “Both Doris and Dr. Hill had a real heart for outreach in Jamaica. It was only fitting that the building be named for Dr. Hill.”
Also honored with the naming was Deacon James Robinson, who not only generously supported the school with his wife, Queen Robinson, but he also made the annual mission trip with NACE.
While on mission, ministers and laypeople conduct Vacation Bible School and other Christian education sessions.
“This was my first trip to Jamaica,” said Evidane Slaughter. “It was so exciting, and so inspiring for all of us. I had time to spend with the principal at Keith Primary School. I shared some of the basics of teaching children how to read. What a joy the whole experience was.
Slaughter is principal at Cornerstone Prep Lester School in Binghamton.
“The trip outside the states opened my eyes to an important truth,” said Slaughter. “Black and brown children have the same struggles across the world. But good teaching is good teaching. An effective reading instruction program is key to improving education.”
When Hill first opened ESPN Academy Memphis, it began as a tutorial program to improve the high school graduation rates and increase the number of children performing at grade level.
For several days a week, certified teachers and tutors provided church and community children academic enrichment and social development as tutors and caring mentors.
The concept absolutely worked. So, in August 2006, ESPN Academy teachers knocked on doors in South Memphis, looking for school-age children who needed help with their homework.
The academy had officially expanded to an after-school program.
It was a strike aimed at reducing juvenile crime.
“I have a new perspective on our work here in Memphis,” said Slaughter. “Despite the challenges, our students are blessed with so much. They have so much potential. I have been so inspired…I am so optimistic.”