Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN
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Source: Women's Division
More than 150 United Methodist Women members active in public education in local communities around the nation exchanged information, experiences and strategies to advance their faith-based efforts to support and protect U.S. public education at a summit called by the million-member organization at the Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tenn., Jul 28-31.
The summit was part of the United Methodist Women Campaign for Children: Phase III: Public Education in which members are urged to go into their local schools and school boards as volunteers and advocates for the needs of students. Also, members of the organization have been studying issues surrounding the status of U.S. public education through United Methodist Women Schools of Christian Mission program, which offers classes on selected topics around the country each year.
“We’ve had two years of study on U.S. public education that’s helped to build an awareness of the issues,” said Julie Taylor, summit coordinator and executive secretary for children, youth and family advocacy for the Women’s Division, the national administrative body of United Methodist Women. “The purpose of this summit is to listen to what our members are doing and learning as they engage the public school systems in their communities.”
In an opening plenary message, Women’s Division deputy general secretary Jan Love said the crisis in U.S. public education is an issue that goes to the heart of Christian faith and faithfulness.
“When our children ask in time to come, how did we uphold Jesus’ commandment to love the Lord with all our minds and to love our neighbor as ourselves….what will we say?” Ms. Love asked. “Will we say: You children who live in the inner city were thirsty for knowledge, for comprehension of the world around you, and I gave you a bankrupt property tax base, broken down buildings, and overcrowded classrooms that could not possible quench your thirst. You children who live in rural areas were hungry to read and write and discover the wonders of science, and I gave you teacher shortages, ill-equipped classrooms and frequent standardized test that could not possible match your appetite for learning. As a person of faith, when our children ask in time to come….how will we account for ourselves?”
Ms. Love said the issue of public education is relevant to United Methodist Women not only as women of faith who know the saving power of Jesus Christ, but also as citizens of the United States who know the liberating experience of democracy and freedom.
“I believe the crisis of public education is not only an issue that goes to the heart of our Christian faith and faithfulness,” she said. “I believe it is also a struggle for the soul of our nation and our world.”
Summit participants were a diverse group that included educators, parents, students, public policy advocates and school volunteers and came to the meetings with a wealth of experience and dedication to public education. Participant Pat Butler of Jackson Street United Methodist Church in Lynchburg, Va., is one example. She got the idea for a tutoring program while taking the public education study in a school of Christian mission last year. With support from United Methodist Women in the area, the newly retired teacher started a tutoring program for high school students with failing scores on state tests mandatory for graduation.
“I went to the principal at E.C. Glass High School and asked if I could work with the students who hadn’t passed their state tests,” Ms. Butler explained. “He said, `I can’t pay you.’ I said, `I didn’t ask you to. My conference United Methodist Women is going to pay for the students’ test prep books. I just need the students.’ He said, `Sure.’”
The school sent out notices to the parents of children who’d failed the test notifying them of the new Standards of Learning Excellence Connection (S.O.L.E.) tutoring program being offered at Jackson Street United Methodist Church and Court Street United Methodist Church, both in downtown Lynchburg.
“God truly blessed the S.O.L.E. program,” Ms. Butler reported. “We had a successful first year with an 86 percent passing rate on all the retake tests.”
Ms. Butler said the summit inspired her to do more.
“I’m just praising God this weekend,” she said. “Education is a calling. Just like people get called to the preaching ministry, people are called to teach. What we’re doing this weekend is that important.”
Summit participants also heard from representatives of the National Parents Teachers Association, National School Boards Associations, the United Church of Christ Witness and Ministries staff and the National Education Association about ways to partner with other organizations to improve and protect the nation’s public school system at a time when it is threatened by privatization.
Susan Dalton on the Tennessee Education Association and the National Education Association urged the participants to advocate for more flexibility in measuring school and student accountability in the No Child Left Behind Act, set for reauthorization in 2007.
“We all know that we all have off days,” Ms. Dalton said. “We need to expand school accountability beyond the current measure of the percent of students who score proficient on one day or two tests in reading and math.”
The United Methodist Women Public Education Summit will be followed up with training events next year in hub cities around the country, Ms. Taylor said.
“Our study on public education is ending, but our work in this area is just being launched,” she said.
Aug 02, 2005