Over the last several years, members of several churches, including my own, have provided volunteers to do various tasks at the now-closed Southwest High School in Kansas City. Some of us, in turn, are making ourselves available as volunteers at Southeast High.
Which raises the question of what role faith communities can or should play in public education.
That was one of the many issues discussed one recent evening by a panel at an event at the University of Missouri-Kansas City sponsored by the American Public Square.
Early in the discussion, one of the panelists quoted a study that suggested that 60 percent of educational outcome is determined by factors outside the school itself, while just 20 percent of that outcome can be directly attributed to what happens in the school. The other 20 percent is simply unknown.
So if a large percentage of educational outcome depends on outside factors, what role can faith communities, civic clubs, sports organizations, businesses, neighborhood organizations, libraries and other such groups play in helping to make sure young people are getting a good education?
There was widespread agreement that such organizations -- plus families -- have an important role to play in sustaining America's public education system.
"All of them can make a difference," said David A. Smith, chief of communications and governmental relations for the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. Students, he said, "need quality out-of-school experiences. They need relationships with caring adults."
Tony Kline, superintendent and executive director of University Academy, a charter school, said his school has 26 different community partners that provide this kind of outside help to students. But he noted that transporting students to off-site out-of-school events is a major hurdle to overcome to allow them to participate in these enrichment activities.
Concurring that such community partners can help, Angela Rachiti, research fellow in poverty studies for the American Enterprise Institute, nonetheless said it's important "to focus on family units and particularly on the parents and the extended family as well." Strong families, she said, can help prevent students entering kindergarten or preschool "so far behind."
And, of course, faith communities can help support and encourage family strength and unity, which in turns helps assure a good education for children. Such churches, synagogues, mosques and other congregations also can help provide what theorists call "social capital," which means networks of people who can support, instruct and love children through the educational process.
The question is whether your congregation, if you have one, is engaged in this kind of educational support. If not, why not?
(In the photo above you see, from left to right, David Smith; Angela Rachiti; moderator Allan Katz, founder of the American Public Square; Dennis L. Carpenter, superintendent of the Hickman Mills School District, and Tony Kline.)
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ENTER THE SYNAGOGUE BEFORE IT DRIVES AWAY
A friend passed along this terrific Wall Street Journal article about a mobile synagogue in New York -- called the Mitzvah Tank. Jews are said not to do much in the way of evangelism, but in some sense this might be considered evangelism to religiously inactive Jews. Maybe there's an idea here for other faith traditions.