By Sara Hoover
At the Campus School, you may see students roller-skating in the hallway or taped
to the wall. But don’t be fooled, both activities are educational. Roller-skating
is a skill that helps build better readers, while the kids stuck on the wall are learning
about gravity and force.
As Dr. Nate Essex, former dean of the College of Education, said at a Parents’ Night,
“Campus School’s not for everyone. You have to believe in innovation, change, research
and in creating.”
The Memphis City Schools (MCS) elementary school and training lab for students in
the University’s College of Education is in its final year of serving sixth grade
and will become first through fifth grades to be consistent with the MCS system, but
may add a kindergarten. Sixteen regular classroom teachers and five support area teachers
serve a maximum of 350 students.
Campus School students in Ted James’ drum class work to perfect the beat.
(Photo by Lindsey Lissau)
“We’re a school of choice,” said principal Susan Copeland. “All of the children are
here because their parents believe in what we do and primarily support what we do.
It’s a diverse school. Parents really want their children to have an education in
the real world and that commitment is strong. We want our school to be a place that
welcomes children, their parents and that forges relationships.”
There are no academic or behavioral requirements of students for admission.
“When you look at the University environment, it’s a microcosm,” said Copeland (BSEd
’84, MEd ’91, EdD ’04). “We cross all lines of economics, gender and ethnicity. We
have 28 zip codes represented in this school. What I’m proudest of is proving day
in and day out we can pull this off if we come in with the right attitude. When you
can take children from across the spectrum —we don’t only have children with the best
scores or best behavior — we show that high-academic and high-behavior expectations
works with everybody.”
Priority enrollment goes first to full-time administrators and faculty, then maintenance
and staff. Next priority goes to siblings of those already enrolled and finally, a
student’s proximity to the school.
As for being a teaching lab for College of Education students, the Campus School serves
different functions. University students observe teaching, practice student teaching
while being overseen, do long-term internships and some even teach two days a week.
“The teachers, you can’t find any better (ones),” said Copeland. “We are U of M employees,
so we have an obligation to the University in terms of working with different departments,
conducting research, training teachers, working with pre-service teachers. Typically,
we have about 600 different touches with University students in their prep work in
a given year. That’s a lot of modeling and demonstrating. Then, teachers are totally
and completely obligated to MCS because we are a public school and a lot of our funding
comes from the public school system. They have a double job. It’s not for the meek.
“I walked by a classroom, one of the kids said, ‘I wish today would never end.’ Something
wonderful must be going on in that classroom. That’s the kind of thing that keeps
us coming back.”
The school also serves as a research and training ground for other departments.
“We do a lot of research with sociology, psychology and all of the psychometric testing
and testing in schools in terms of keeping up with children’s data,” said Copeland,
who has been principal for 13 years and with the school for 25 years.
The relationship between the University and the school is one that goes back to the
“The University is very benevolent toward Campus School. We’ve been here since day
one. The University was built around the Campus School, called the Training School
at the time. That long-term and committed relationship has sustained us through years
when a lot of colleges and universities let go of their laboratory schools. The University
continued to believe in what we did and what we had to offer was of value.”
Campus School was established as the Training School in 1912 in connection with
the West Tennessee State Normal School (the University of Memphis’ first name) so
that University students could gain practical teaching experience under the direction
of master teachers.
Musician Leigh Frith shows a student the proper technique in violin class for first-
The Training School was originally located in the Administration Building under the
supervision of the head of the Department of Education and served as an “adequate
working laboratory in which the prospective teacher may gain actual experience and
scientific knowledge in the art of teaching,” which was very much supported and expanded
by the University’s third president, Dr. Andrew Kincannon, who served from 1918 to
In the fall of 1919, realizing that the growth of the institution demanded larger
facilities, the demonstration school was enlarged from first through third grades
to encompass the first six grades. The 1923 enrollment reached a total of 162 pupils.
A new demonstration school building was to be erected on campus, adjoining the Administration
Building. This measure had been passed by the County Court of Shelby County and approved
by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee. Construction began in 1921 and
was paid for with a combined gift of $80,000: $30,000 from the City of Memphis and
$50,000 from Shelby County.
In 1924, on the U of M campus, the Shelby County and State Boards of Education completed
a new demonstration school, placed under the management of the University.
The Training School was incorporated into Memphis City Schools in 1930, and the MCS
Board of Education joined the State Board of Education to help finance the Training
As of 1941, it was a one-story building that contained offices, classrooms, an auditorium
and “open courts” for the children.
Relocated to its current facilities in 1963, the Training School had its name officially
changed to the MSU Campus School. In 1994, Memphis State University changed its name
to The University of Memphis; therefore, the school became The University of Memphis
Today, the Campus School consistently ranks as one of the best in the state and top
in the city based on its Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores.
In 2008, the school was ranked the No. 1 elementary school in Memphis and ninth in
the state and in the Top 20 for reading and language arts out of all elementary schools
in Tennessee. With its 2009 TCAP results, the Campus School continues to maintain
its highest achieving standards.
“We are in the top rankings,” said Copeland. “We’ve gotten monetary awards for being
one of the higher achieving schools in the state. I got that rose at a principal’s
meeting because 80 percent of our children are performing in advanced range. With
the new state standards that are coming down, that’s a real accomplishment.”
Standardized tests, though, are a tool the school has been using even when it was
known as the Training School, according to the 1923 DeSoto yearbook: “One of the outstanding features has been the systematic use of standardized
tests. Standardized intelligence and educational tests have both been used this year.
These data have been scientifically compiled under the careful supervision of the
Head of the Department of Education, in such a way that any deficiency may be quickly
noted and speedily remedied, thus giving the future teacher a practical working knowledge
of these methods.”
Dr. Jim Whelan, associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences
and parent with a daughter in the school’s last sixth grade, believes the high achievements
are due to a variety of factors.
“Being a research school, they attract teachers who are interested not just in teaching,
but in teaching others how to teach,” said Whelan (PhD ‘89). “The teachers are very
invested in teaching as a career. Second, Susan Copeland sets the atmosphere and an
expectation about the school that is embodied by teachers and students: We’re all
in this together. The final factor is parents are involved. Consequently, having parents
involved, they understand what their children’s curriculum is and buy-in to the objectives
and that’s a big factor.”
One thing that helps to build community is the weekly Family Gatherings held every
“Being a lab school, we follow research that builds environment and community and
brings people together often,” said Copeland. “We start with movement where we dance
together. Different grade levels take turns demonstrating life skills through a skit.
It helps put us together in a place that reaffirms what we stand for and what we believe
in and our promises to each other.”
Campus School teacher Susan Van Dyck’s beginning guitar class practices chord changes.
(Photo by Lindsey Lissau)
The school’s motto is: “I promise to be respectful, responsible and ready.”
The school recently implemented a Mandarin Chinese curriculum with the U of M’s Confucius
Institute. Children will not only learn the language, but also the culture.
Community service to help students become wellrounded includes volunteering with the
Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Hope for Haiti Collection and a Green Committee working
to make the school green. Extracurricular activities are offered, such as music, gymnastics,
newspaper club, tae kwon do and performing arts.
“Our afterschool programs are to give kids an opportunity to experience things they
might not otherwise have access to,” Copeland said. “Some of them are free, some of
them aren’t. We have a wide variety. We take that as seriously as anything else and
you can’t separate them because what you do for kids emotionally and physically totally
impacts what you can do for them academically.”
Philosophy department chair Dr. Deb Tollefsen has two children at the school who participate
in extracurricular activities.
“They have a wonderful, wonderful music program. Ms. Van Dyck’s been there forever.
They learn how to read music. My son knows how to read music. He’s also in the newspaper
club. They do so much for the kids.”
“The opportunity Susan Van Dyck presents to the kids – she trains them,” adds Whelan
who selected the school based on reputation, convenience and academic performance.
“Both of my girls have been on stage at the Cannon Center and the Orpheum because
of Susan. When there’s a need in the city for a children’s choir, Susan’s often the
point person. To be 11 years old and have already sung on the stage of the Orpheum
is a pretty remarkable thing and a real confidence builder.”
The school works on a balanced calendar with classes held for approximately nine weeks
and then a two-week break.
“I think the calendar is great. I think summer is too long,” said Tollefsen. “I don’t
think parents realize because it’s a school associated with the College, this innovation
is part of what they’re doing here. Trying new things out and a new curriculum as
a kind of laboratory school for thinking about how to extend those things in other
places. They went out on newspaper day and took pictures on campus but they’re also
visiting the school newspaper. They did these things when they had the two-week breaks.
They had enrichment classes and went to the greenhouse and saw the lab animals. When
we have a performance here, we can make use of the University’s resources and that’s
a huge bonus to build those relationships across levels of education. It’s really
a great thing.”
Whelan says of the overall experience, “The Campus School is a private school education
at a public school price. You walk in that building, every single teacher knows every
child’s name. They know what’s going on with your kid. They are happy to be there,
dedicated to their job. Most people have to pay to get that kind of service.”
(Historical information compiled from the Campus School handbook, 1923 DeSoto yearbook and June 1941 Memphis State College Bulletin with assistance from history research assistant Frances Wright Breland.)