Leaders of Color Alumni in Action: Taking on Truancy in Memphis

January 18, 2024

In the 2022-23 school year, 45% of students at Memphis Shelby County Schools (MSCS) were truant, with five or more unexcused absences from school. One out of four children are chronically absent, meaning they’ve missed more than 18 days of school. 

Memphis isn’t alone - across the nation, truancy has been on the rise, with 28% of students missing an average of 10% of school days in a year. Between the 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years, chronic absenteeism has doubled. Chronic absenteeism is more likely for students of color and students with disabilities, creating bigger learning gaps between students. Leaders of Color is dedicated to advancing education equity in our schools, and our alumni leave our program with the tools and knowledge they need to address equity issues in their own communities. 

Sandra Pita, Leaders of Color alum and education advocate, is working with parents and members of the Memphis Shelby County Board of Education to help students and families address barriers to attendance and advance mental health and social-emotional learning solutions. As a former DACA recipient, business owner, and mother of six, Sandra is no stranger to navigating systems. Her passion for education equity comes from her family’s experiences with MSCS. 

Sandra’s daughter was excited about attending a specific school in Memphis, but was devastated to learn she would not be admitted because her Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) math scores were too low. Sandra remembered that when her daughter was in fourth grade, she had a substitute teacher for most of a semester, leaving the entire class behind in math. Sandra took her daughter to private testing, where she earned a high enough score to attend the school she preferred, but it was too late - her daughter could only be put on the waitlist. Sandra took her daughter’s case to the Board of Education, and began her journey as a parent advocate for equitable resources in our schools. She shared her experience with TCAP and testing with other parents who were having similar challenges, and since then has used her knowledge and experience to help parents advocate for themselves and their children. 

She’s now bringing that passion to improve school truancy rates in Memphis. In community meetings, Sandra meets with parents and students to understand the underlying causes of truancy. She provides parents with information about truancy laws in Tennessee and provides culturally competent resources for parents who need them. Together with other parents and educators, Sandra is advocating for more resources that will help address mental, emotional, and physical needs. From more counselors in schools to a more diverse school board that understands the challenges that Memphis’ families face, Sandra hopes to help more students stay on track, graduate on time, and reach their full potential. 

Sandra Pita is a board member and lead community organizer with the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope (MICAH), a mother of six, a business owner, and a passionate education equity advocate. Her advocacy for resource equity and higher education access stems from her own children’s education experiences in Memphis. Sandra graduated from the Leaders of Color program in Memphis, TN in 2023

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