MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Mendenhall Square Shopping Center in Hickory Hill looks like many shopping centers. It’s home to a bank, a Family Dollar and a health clinic. But it’s also where hundreds of students go to school.
"So, the shopping center was pretty empty,” said Yetta Lewis, CEO and co-founder of Gestalt Community Schools. “We were leasing it for our high school, and we thought we had an opportunity with Mendenhall Mall to build a greater ecosystem.”
Gestalt Community Schools not only opened Power Center Academy High School in the shopping center, but also bought the entire property for $2.4 million in October 2018.
On Tuesday, they dedicated a new elementary and a ninth grade academy, marking another step in the school’s three-year plan to partner with others to revitalize the shopping center.
They have goals of a grocery store, preschool, restaurants and more green spaces.
State Senator Katrina Robinson says they’ve already made a huge difference.
“Just the sight of the shopping center being abandoned and not being tended to, I think it was sort of a source of hopelessness for our community and I think Power Center really injected a lot of vibrancy, a lot of hope for the community,” said Robinson.
Gestalt says giving back is part of the curriculum.
"We want to build generations and we want them to build generations to continue the legacy of making things better than the way that they found it," said Antonio Ryan, principal of Power Center Academy High School.
It's a lesson Gestalt scholars have already learned.
"It's the center. It represents the heart and soul of Hickory Hill," said scholar Lataysha Walker.
"We are taking buildings that have been here for I don't know how long and we're rebuilding them and putting kids into education, so I think it's really important," said scholar Jaeda Brown.
Gestalt, which was founded in 2011, is now a network of K-12 college-preparatory charter schools in targeted Memphis communities.
It says its mission is to leverage community assets to empower citizens who will be college-ready, career-ready, and community-ready.
Community leaders in Hickory Hill are holding a ribbon cutting ceremony for two new school buildings for Gestalt Community Schools.