Partnering with Local Schools, Pt II

I am grateful for Pastor Louie Juarez for taking time out of his busy schedule to discuss the rummage sale that took place on the 19th of June. Learning more about his vision for the event, motivation, etc, was a wonderful experience. For new readers who aren't aware of what took place, scroll down right quick or click HERE to see what Louie and the Serra Messa Christian Fellowship did on the 19th.

Pastor Juarez had an immediate goal of answering the question, "If out church disappeared, would anyone in the community miss us?" It was a noble and sobering question. Then, setting out to make sure that question could be answered in a "yes!", Pastor Juarez met the local principal to see if the school could use some help. His hypotheses was that the school might need maintenance on the building or some painting done, but what he got was a wonderful opportunity to address one of the greatest needs in schools today.

The Principal was eager to get help, but the shortage was not in maintenance. Rather, she felt that the church's partnership could be best served by supporting a summer reading program. In order to encourage students to read, the church was asked to provide awards for the program.Pastor Juarez involved the congregation and local community in the rummage sale project, gathering donated items and encouraging the community to come out and support the event.

By the end of the day, Serra Mesa Christian Fellowship had raised $700 for the summer reading program. There are, in my opinion, several take-aways from this event:

1.  Public schools aren't as afraid to work with you as you might think. Pastors can partner with local schools. Maybe not all the time, maybe not exactly the way you think, but it's possible.

2.  Churches can directly affect the achievement gap. Of course the impact of Serra Mesa Christian Fellowship won't be felt until the students know about the awards and have earned them, but motivating students to read during a summer reading program can directly affect the ability of a student to move from "basic" to "proficient" or "advanced." The school gets pretty good marks in English Language Arts as it is (60% at or above proficient, compared to 53% statewide), but is clearly better in math as a whole (72% at or above proficient). The school gets an 8 rating on Great Schools website, yet Serra Mesa Christian Fellowship is getting a great opportunity to help push those numbers up.

I've received several questions to my previous posts about how churches can help schools close the achievement gap. Serra Mesa Christian Fellowship shows one way it can be done. One of the biggest problems with schools is a lack of resources, according to data I've seen. That seems to mirror what Pastor Juarez found at Jones Elementary School. Furthermore, the church is now directly benefiting the reading program, which should help more students move up from basic to proficient and above!

Well done Serra Mesa Christian Fellowship!


3 comments:

Nate said...

This church is truly taking the right steps I think, and God bless them for their outreach! I'm very happy to see churches getting involved in the lives of young people beyond Sunday School and Wednesday religion programs.

Now, Dan, when you say that this is an example of how the churches can close the achievement gap, I'm going to ask you as a researcher: Can you prove that statement?

It's great that the church is helping with a summer reading program, and I'm sure a lot of very cool benefits come out of it. I think it would be a cool study to see if their involvement really has helped and will help close the gap.

Remember that having 61% at the proficient level on reading, or whatever the score was, does not tell us anything about the "gap" that exists among students. Were all 61% white students? I want to know where the gap is and what the church is doing specifically to help the gap. That would be more powerful for your research opportunity.

Again, don't think I'm criticizing what the church is doing. I agree with you that this is AMAZING! I'm still reserved, though, on how their assistance will help actually close this gap that you speak about regularly.

In other words, as researchers love to say...MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED! :)

Dan said...

Nate, I fear you're working from a predisposition against churches helping public schools. What if the reading scores go up for Jones Elementary this next testing cycle? Since I can't prove that it was the church's support that did it, would you write it off?

What would it take for you to believe that it is possible?

Nate said...

Believing that something is possible is quite different than proving that it is happening. I firmly agree with you on three things:

1) Schools are failing, and all will most likely fail after the 2014 deadline, and

2) Community involvement in the schools is powerful, and

3) The community SHOULD be involved directly in the schools.

Now, with that being said, my predisposition is simply from the researcher's standpoint. There are plenty of wishy-washy educational practices out there that some will accept as the gospel, even though there's no true research to support it. I don't want that to be the case with this.

Research questions:

1. Can churches, as part of the wider community in which schools rest, play a major role in the academic success of students?

2. Can indirect community involvement CAUSE improvement in reading scores? Or does improvement only occur with direct, instructional intervention?

3. What are the role of parents in closing the achievement gap, and how does their role coincide with the school and community at-large?

Also, don't forget your original plan (or philosophy as it is yet), which was to close the achievement gap. My criticism earlier still applies here. Having more students at the proficient mark is wonderful, but is the gap closed? If not, then what involvement is needed in order to close it?

I am not against churches assisting the schools. As part of the larger community, and with their "hospitality" doctrines, they SHOULD be involved (we'll talk about churches and running hospitals for profit some other day), and it should be involved FREELY. But, as an educator who deals with students on a daily basis, and as a researcher who has to view things critically, yes, I'm still not going to accept that a church has caused improvement in reading or has caused the gap to lessen.

One of the biggest problems in education, as I'm sure you will soon find out, is that very seldomly can we say that one thing "caused" improvement. There are so many factors involved, and most of them are outside of the school's control. That's why we only try to "prove" a "correlation."

So again, a great research study for you to undertake (we'll call it action research for now) would be to see what correlations can be made between various community groups' involvement in the schools. If you can argue that a church's donations for supplies, books, etc., is correlated with an improvement in reading, then by all means, get that study published and lead the way!

To my knowledge, this would be a fairly unfamiliar area of research, and I'm actually glad someone is wanting to pursue it. See what literature already exists and go from there.

Remember, though, that in research, you should never accept something as true unless you can, without a doubt, fail to prove it false. I know, it's kind of the "critical" route to take, but nonetheless, that's science.

Nate