Elana Cole - Why I Believe Memphis Academy


In 2003, I came to Memphis on a whim – I didn’t have family here or any ties, really.  A year after moving to Memphis, and while looking for a more sustainable job, it was my mailman who suggested that I go into teaching.

“Teaching?!” I said with a smirk on my face and a chuckle in my voice. I tried to shoo the idea away, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. “Teaching,” I said aloud days later.  “I’m going to be a teacher.” Little did I know that his suggestion guided me towards my lifelong mission of pursuing a life of expanded opportunities and access for children in this city.

While I foolishly thought that teaching was going to be a breeze, it was everything but that.  My high school students challenged me all the time and they made me question my own competence! (I still laugh every time I think about it.) Looking back, I now realize that they were testing me: They didn’t want just another person coming in and patting them on the back for a job well done only to turn around and leave like many others did; rather, they wanted to know – truly know - that I cared about them. So, I took them up on their challenge.

As a teacher, I had the privilege of gaining insight into their world – their hopes, dreams, and struggles were a part of our everyday conversations in and outside of class.  I felt responsible for helping to shape their lives. I gave them the best of me and taught them all that I knew.  More importantly, they taught me more than they would ever realize.  In retrospect, I can confidently say it was the best decision I ever made in my career because it led me to where I am now: As a founding board member of Believe Memphis Academy.

I first met Danny Song in 2014 while working for Teach for America as a coach to incoming teachers.  When he told me about the mission and vision of the school he was founding, I was immediately intrigued. The passion and hope that he had for this school and for the children of this city mirrored the same passion and hope I had for my own students. It spoke straight to my soul, and I knew I wanted to be a part of its creation. 

Since being on the board of BMA, I’ve been challenged to think outside the box about what’s possible.  Imagine a student in class who is captivated by what they’re learning.  That has been my experience this entire time!  The best (and probably the most intimidating) part of it all is that my newly learned information cannot just remain with me; I’m now on the hook for being a part of the change that we want to see through education, advocacy, and envisioning what’s possible.

For me, this is more than just being a part of another charter school in Memphis.  It’s much more than continuing my work in education.  For me, this is my heart’s work and it’s a way for me to continue to give back to all of my students that I taught, their families that I partnered with, and the hundreds of teachers that I currently support.  I am proud to be a part of Believe Memphis Academy because together we are working to achieve something that’s greater than ourselves – one child at a time.

Danny Song