Education

What Can Churches Do?

JUST OVER A year ago, I attended a retreat sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education. During the retreat we were encouraged to look at our lives and to find a personal story that captured the essence of what led us to our particular ministries. That led me to reflect on my childhood: growing up in poverty, attending a different school every year, walking to school with cardboard in the bottom of my shoes because the soles were worn out, wondering how I was going to eat, lacking school supplies at times, and dealing with the stress of a single mother who was a substance abuser.

By reminding me of those things I endured and had to overcome as a child, that exercise helped me tap into my real passion. I wanted to find ways to help children growing up in similar circumstances. I wanted to inspire them to believe in themselves and know that they can make it.

At-risk youth and under-performing students need to be inspired, but equally important is their need for adults who are willing to do the work of helping them succeed academically. Education continues to be our most reliable tool for creating upward life trajectories and optimal opportunities. Churches are more than places where people come in search of a deeper relationship with God; they are also places where people come to find deeper connections with their communities and the possibility of using their gifts and talents to help those in need.

All these forces together compelled me to act on an idea I had more than a year ago: to call on friends from across the country to help create Faith for Change. Faith for Change builds a national network of churches and people of faith committed to implementing proven educational strategies for improving children’s lives.

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Protecting Immigrant Families: Webinar on Family Unity Waivers

Whether encouraging children to succeed, caring for elders at the end of life, or investing in struggling communities, strong families can make all the difference. Unfortunately, our broken immigration system often negatively affects families, increasing both their emotional stress and financial burden. Too often our laws actually separate family members from each other in ways that create lasting damage. 

Recently, the federal government announced a policy change designed to keep families together as they navigate the process of applying for green cards. While this shift will also streamline the process and reduce the complexity of application, the new rules can still be confusing to those seeking help. That is why the Interfaith Immigration Coalition is working to educate the faith community about these developments. On September 10, the Coalition will host a webinar from 4-5 p.m. EDT for faith leaders interested in learning more. Take this opportunity to hear from policy experts, legal advocates, and faith leaders about this important topic.

When: Monday, September 10th from 4- 5 p.m. EDT

Where: Phone

RSVP here.

Living Letters

Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com
Photo of pile of letters, Kudryashka / Shutterstock.com

I love to receive letters. When I was a little boy, I lived on a long, straight street and I could see the mail truck coming from a long way off. After the mailman stopped in front of our house, I ran with hope in my heart down our front walkway, between our two giant maple trees and across the street to our mailbox. Would there be a letter for me? Was someone in the world thinking of me?

One day last year it was not the mailman, but a second-grader on the school playground, who handed a letter to me. I unfolded it.

"Dear Mr. Barton, hi it Odeth from 2th grade I miss you a lot I wanted to know about you so much I am being good I am in 4th grade Do you miss me.  I live in __________  I go to school in __________  I hope you will come to my school … can you come visit me in school ask for my name…I am 10 year old I want you to come to my school.

Your best student,

Odeth"

What a wonderful thing, to be remembered by a student.

The Sound of Learning

Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com
Cabbage plant, Richard Griffin / Shutterstock.com

Imani walked down the hall with a paper cup in her hands.

She stopped and held up the cup to me. Inside of its paper walls were soil, water, and seeds — all those humble and elemental things that build a third-grader's scientific knowledge.

Imani was growing cabbage.

She was my student last year. She loved science and writing. I remember the look of wonder in her eyes when we studied weather. We learned about tornadoes. In my classroom, I had two 2-liter bottles connected by a tornado tube, a plastic piece that allows you to make a tornado by swirling the water around and around in one of the bottles. Imani held the bottles in her hands and marveled as her water formed into a giant, powerful funnel cloud. 

"Wow," she whispered.

I love the sound of learning.

James and the Giant Book

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev  / Shutterstock.com
Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev / Shutterstock.com

In Roald Dahl's classic children's book James and the Giant Peach, 7-year-old orphan James Henry Trotter escapes his two rotten, abusive aunts by crawling into a giant peach. The peach rolls, floats, and flies him to a new life of wonder and love.

I'm reading this book aloud for the first time, and my listeners are spellbound by the story, especially the part where the very small old man opens the bag filled with magical crocodile tongues that will help a barren, broken peach tree grow fruit as big as a house.

"There's more power and magic in those things in there than in all the rest of the world put together," says the man. 

There is.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

“What do you want to be when you grow-up?” is the pressure filled question that people begin asking as soon as they feel young people are old enough to answer. 

From there it only gets worse. It’s a question I hated answering. Adults and media filled my mind with careers that would make me financially secure and, in their minds, happy. So these careers filled my answers: doctor, lawyer, and pharmacist. I would be something important, and life after college would be financially easy. 

I babysat often through high school and remember a mom asking the dreaded questio

Music for Small and Tall

Bryan Moyer leading children in song
Bryan Moyer leading children in song

This year, as we start Sunday School and churches come back from summer schedule, I want to introduce you to one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Bryan Moyer Suderman. It’s rare that you find music that appeals to all ages with a strong social justice focus, healthy theology, inclusive language, environmental concern, and really good musicianship. 

As Brian McLaren and Dave Csinos wrote in the intro to Bryan’s new CD:

Bryan takes up the challenge of uniting the old and the young, the tall and the small, with songs of faith that echo the depth, beauty, struggle, complexity, and unconventionality of walking in the way of Jesus.

Bryan is a minstrel, a prophet, a visionary, and a follower of Jesus who invites listeners of all ages to join him in “infiltrating the world with the love of God.” His music is captivating, his lyrics are theologically-rich and thought-provoking, and his voice invites us all to live God’s kingdom wherever we are. 

The Pages in the Book Go 'Flip, Flip, Flip'

Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: Over the next two weeks, Sojourners is celebrating our teachers, parents, and mentors as children across the country head back to school. We'll offer a series of reflections on different aspects of education in our country.

My elementary school is a Title I school. About 97 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch and Medicaid. Research shows us that many children raised in poverty struggle to learn to read. 

Common sense tells us that children who don't learn to read can't read to learn. They often reach a frustration level with school by the time they're in the third grade. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 70 percent of low-income fourth-grade students can't read at a basic level. I often wonder, "What can I do in my day-to-day work as a teacher to help?"

Riding the Bus to Equality

School bus interior, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com
School bus interior, Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

Every morning at 7:15, the doors of our school open wide to a line of bus riders ready to come inside. "Hello, Jaheem. Hi, Kiara. Hey, Imani. Hope you're having a good day, Omar," I call out as the students walk past me to the cafeteria for breakfast. I stand at the doors for a moment and watch the big, yellow buses puff their diesel exhaust and chug their way to the garage until it's time for their afternoon run.

Is there a more universal symbol for public schools than a big, yellow school bus?

Gardeners of Youth

We who nurture the life of children could be compared to gardeners, conscientiously serving the God-given stages of the growing plant. We seek to support its development as a seedling, a young plant, and a fruit-bearing or mature plant.

However, Christian educators of young children often begin to water, weed, and prune without first observing children to grasp the stages of their relationship with God. God has planned human and spiritual growth just as well as God has prepared plant growth.

Catholic scholar Sofia Cavalletti and her collaborators Gianna Gobbi and others around the world and in many denominations have carefully observed the stages of newborn to 12 year-old children’s relationship with God, and they have developed an approach to religious formation, called the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, that serves those stages well. The encounter with God over the years includes coming to know God who is love, God who is personal, and God who is just and merciful, as these and other aspects of God match the developmental strengths of the growing child.

Here is that development and its implications in very broad strokes:

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