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    Dr. Scott Morris: Teach for America participants contribute to a brighter and healthier future

    By Dr. Scott Morris - The Commercial Appeal -

    I was 8 years old, in the third grade, and still kicking the legs of my chair when my teacher, Ms. Turner, opened wide the window on learning for me. Years later, Dr. David Duncomb shed light on the link between faith and health. I could name many more influential teachers in between. I love teachers!

    At a recent dinner, I was honored to host a table of brand-new Memphis City Schools teachers. All told, 166 new Memphians have come from all over the country through Teach for America. At my table I conversed with the former editor of the Penn State newspaper, the president of the senior class at Florida State, and a member of the women's crew team at the University of Michigan. Everyone was impressive, and everyone was excited about being in Memphis. It made me feel young again.

    I was invited to the event because the Church Health Center has become a partner with Teach for America's national office. One of the criticisms of TFA is that young teachers spend two years in inner-city and rural schools, then go on to other things, such as medical school or law school. On one level, I understand the criticism; the schools are losing trained teachers. But isn't it a good thing that future doctors, lawyers and business people now care deeply about public education in a way they might never have without their TFA experience?

    Our partnership recently brought 18 alumni of TFA to Memphis for a weekend to discuss their hopes to become social entrepreneurs in medicine. The group included the president of the American Medical Student Association, a first-year medical student at Stanford, and the creator of GirlTrek, a national walking project for African-American women.

    Successful health care entrepreneurs from Memphis served as their mentors for the weekend. At the end of the conference, Church Health Center director Ann Langston said, "I can sleep well at night now. I now know that a remarkable group of young people passionately cares about solving the problems we face in education and health care just like I did when I was their age."

    The young teachers are currently down in Mississippi taking a crash course on how to be a teacher. I am sure it is not as com

    prehensive as a four-year degree in education, but passion for children and learning tied with youthful exuberance and determination can cover a world of missed classes.

    National politics of health care and education have dominated our thinking lately, but remarkable things are going on in our own backyard.

    Soon after school starts in August, I encourage you to call Athena Turner, the executive director of the local TFA office, and ask for the name of a new teacher whom you can support. Help buy materials for the classroom, fund a field trip, or invite the teacher over for dinner. I also encourage you to call the principal at the school nearest your home and ask how you can support new teachers there as well.

    Offering better access to technology and doctors is not the only strategy that will bring change in the health of Memphis. Teaching our children to live healthy lives can bring enormous transformation to a generation. We now have 166 new Memphians dedicated to doing just that. They deserve our support in every way possible.

    Dr. Scott Morris is the founder and executive director of the Church Health Center, whose ministries provide health care for the working uninsured and promote healthy bodies and spirits for all. Dr. Morris also is the author of "God, Health and Happiness" (Barbour, 2012).