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Congregations, Public Schools Find Many Ways to Join in Support of a Common Priority: Children

Nov. 8, 2004, ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- After-school tutoring programs, drives to collect school supplies and sharing of parking lots are among ways houses of worship can support public schools without violating separation of church and state.  The goal of their collaboration is not to proselytize, but rather "to do the best we can for our children," said Dave Brown, who staffs the National Council of Churches' Public Education work. 


William ClayHe spoke at a Nov. 8 discussion on the eve of the NCC/CWS annual General Assembly, meeting in St. Louis Nov. 9-11.   U.S. Rep. William Clay (pictured) of St. Louis described work at the national level to increase support for public education, including the planned reintroduction of the Student Bill of Rights in the next session of Congress, a bill that calls for full funding of "Leave No Child Behind."  Then several of the some 60 St. Louis public school officials and faith leaders present offered examples of local collaborations to support public school children:


  • Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services for Rockwood School District;
  • Joan Smith, Reading Specialist at Blevins Elementary School; 
  • Mike Fulton, Assistant Superintendent for Planning and Assessment of the Pattonville School District;
  • Donette Green, Executive Director for Special Services, Pattonville School District, and
  • Dr. Howard Bowens, Volunteer Community Consultant for College Hill 2000, a College Hill community-based community improvement group. 


Anderson and Smith described a tutoring program for 3,000 students at 11 church sites.  In some, students are downstairs while their parents are in Wednesday night prayer meeting upstairs.  Corinthian Baptist Church tutors pre-schoolers through adults, including parents who want more skills to help their children with homework.


Pattonville School District brings school board members and faith community leaders together every year to talk about issues and projects, Felton said.  Partners include Community Helping Ministry (CHM), which feeds and shelters children in family emergencies and distributes school supplies to children in need. 


"We require community service, which can be through a church or community organization as long as you are helping people," he said.  "And school children hold an 'empty bowl' event to fund CHM projects."  Houses of worship are on call to take children if school must be evacuated, and churches open their parking lots for school use during the week.  "That's a simple thing to do," Felton said, "but it shows the community is connected."


Green described a collaboration with Missouri Baptist Children's Home to provide crisis care and emergency shelter for children removed from their homes or suspended from school -- offering on-site classes for the latter so they can keep up.


Bowens works in St. Louis' College Hill community on a project that supports school, home, block and neighborhood environments -- all of them learning environments, he noted.  He has mapped the Bryan Hill School neighborhood and linked its 14 churches in an e-mail network. 


"I send a message every week and help link churches that, for example, want to plan a back-to-school event."  The key, he said, is rebuilding the communication and community links that have been broken. 


Among his ideas for churches and other houses of worship:

  • Strengthen families with school children.

  • Find out what their schools need and supply it -- the schools will open up to you.

  • Adopt a block or two near your church to influence the learning environment.

  • Accept everyone in your community. 

Even charter schools -- sometimes viewed as taking resources from public education -- and gangs and drug dealers, he said.  "In our community there are two blocks where you can buy all sorts of drugs.  I don't avoid it; rather, I greet everyone and politely decline what they have to offer.  We must treat humans as human beings."


Photos by Kathleen Cameron.


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