(Memphis) Third grade is a time 8 to 9 years old don't seem to have a worry, but it's also a time that marks a major point in a child's future.
"Statistically they say if you aren't reading on a third grade level by third grade then you will never catch up," said Angela Cramer, principal of Kingsbury Elementary School.
Cramer says after third grade, learning speeds up, and if kids are behind and stay behind, it can mean years of struggle.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson says kids have to be prepared with the skills they need to move forward.
"Move a kid forward and they don't have the skill set, they are gonna be in constant catch up mode. That's not gonna be in their best interest," said Hopson.
Experts say the inability to catch up can lead to skipping school, dropping out and even resorting to crime.
It's a sobering thought that also comes with a beacon of hope, since intervention programs statistically prove they can turn those numbers around.
Twelve-hundred children a week come through the doors of Streets Ministry.
Young people from impoverished neighborhoods have a place all their own to get the academic help they need, even before they reach the crucial third grade.
It goes a step further building relationships with kids and becoming an encourager in their lives.
"I think education is a lot more than academics. I think having a mentor in your life is education beyond academics. It's education about life," said Reggie Davis of Streets Ministries. "That's our mission and again to provide hope that even though you may be born in a certain situation that doesn't seem the most positive, you can get out of it."
The numbers show the success.
Kingsbury Elementary began to see shifts after their third graders started working with the Streets Program.
"The students who were involved in Street Smarts last year out performed their peers on the end of year TCAP Exams. They were just an etch above them. When we got those results back we were like look at these kids," said Cramer.
She says it was confirmation that the little bit of extra help helped a lot.
It's a similar story at the Boys and Girls Club of Memphis.
Their intervention focuses on a Power Hour of homework and training in TCAP skills.
"We have 100 percent graduation rate for the last 3 years. When the children's report cards or progress reports come out, we keep track of that and we look at what we need to work on with each student," said Kendra Moore of the Boys and Girls Club of Memphis.
There is also a strong focus on developing social and life skills in children and helping teens learn a trade that can be used if they don't go to college.
They are skills and lessons that will increase the graduation rate instead of the prison rate. These organizations know what it will take to make it happen
"It's about the citizens of this community, the people in this city saying we are going to step up and that we are going to donate one hour a week to one organization that's trying to better our community through our young people," said Davis.
"We also must have partnerships. The Boys and Girls Clubs, the schools, whomever so that we can reach the children where they are in their community," said Cramer.
It will also take funding and people and organizations willing to invest the time to reach even more kids.
"We need everybody locking arms getting on board to support these kids," said Hopson.
Already Streets Ministry is in talks with the Grizzlies Foundation to start literacy programs that offer after-school help to second graders who need it.
"There is just something magical about someone else coming into your life and saying you matter, this matters to me and you are doing great," said Cramer.
Experts and educators agree that type of encouragement may be the key to increasing graduation, decreasing the jail population and saving our children.