Our Church Investment in Public Education

 

“University” is in the name of our church. It is so because of our context, located, as I like to say “in the heart of the University of Tulsa.” Some may rightly point out that our church is not “on campus,” but as our property is surrounded by university owned property, I think it is accurate to say “in” the heart of campus. Besides—I like what the “tagline” connotes. In a place that is unflinchingly devoted to the pursuits of the intellect, we also uplift the “heart.” As Aristotle said, “educating the head without educating the heart is no education at all.”

One way that we “educate the heart” is by supporting our community’s educational efforts—especially those who may be underserved, overlooked, or unappreciated. Since last year, our Tulsa Public School District has been navigating an expected funding shortfall for the 2016-2017 school year. Our School Superintendent, Deborah Gist, has enlisted the help of local ministers to see to the “gaps” that such a shortfall will inevitably produce. This is a time of trial for our state, and so everyone is doing what they can. You may be personally involved with some of the efforts of our church, but if not, I invite you to consider giving of your time, resources, or expertise.

One of those efforts is going on right now with our yearly assistance with Project Transformation. This reading tutoring program planned, facilitated, and paid for by the United Methodist Church and other agencies, is an undeniable success. Each day of the summer, children receive reading assistance and engage in other scholastic pursuits. The college interns who are paid to manage the program are housed at the Methodist Manor. Their meals are provided by churches who sign up on a rotation to do so for the summer. In years past, they’ve been housed here at TU and have eaten their meals right here in the church. One of the sociological phenomena that this program is working to combat is the “summer gap.” Typically children who have more economic means have exciting summers of activities, which bolster their brains and lead to more scholastic achievement. Meanwhile, children of working-class families often spend their summers at home with no opportunities for enrichment—this leads to a gap in education. Tulsa hosts two project transformation sites—one at Southern Hills UMC, and one at Metropolitan Baptist Church. For the past couple years, since a 3rd grade reading test was instituted by the state that would theoretically have to be passed to progress, 100% of the Project Transformation students passed the test. This is quite an achievement that WE help make possible.

Some efforts have been birthed, grew up, and then moved on to other hands for management—such is the case with the Youth Mentoring Program at Kendall-Whittier Elementary that our own collaborative effort with College Hill Presbyterian, Grace Lutheran, and St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Churches: Kendall-Whittier Ministries developed, managed for a number of years, and then handed over to University of Tulsa’s True Blue Neighbors Program to keep growing and improving. That was a good decision—as that particular program continues to thrive and reach around 70 kids a year in intensive tutoring. They have received sponsorships from various agencies around town, and just this past year received a grant from Cox Cable that gave every participant a laptop and internet access in the home. The participants in the YMP come from low-income Spanish speaking households, and the supplemental education they receive through this program is a great “equalizer” of quality education in our school system’s largest and most diverse school.

At the 2015 charge conference, our church met for the first time as part of a “cluster” of United Methodist Churches: Will Rogers, New Haven, Memorial Drive, Southern Hills, Christ, and University make up the “Mid-town Tulsa Missional Cluster,” and over the past year, we’ve determined that we need to be more outspoken about the ways that we are all helping the public school system, and brainstorm some projects we can endeavor in together—as a method of having a greater impact, and also laboring alongside our Methodist friends. So—we’ve decided to together adopt another week of tutoring—together as a cluster—at Project Transformation, July 18-21. That week, we need 2-3 volunteers per church per day to work together with the children at the Metropolitan Baptist site. Though every church in our cluster was already supporting Project Tranformation at either Southern Hills or Metro Baptist, we adapted an initial idea of helping with a field trip together to filling in for this week that had been left unadopted. Working together, we hope to grow stronger as a cluster. We’ll also be contributing funds to provide for snacks for that week, and also making one meal for the interns. Carol Ghere has graciously agreed to help field volunteers for that week as well as our usual, so if you’re interested, speak to her.

Lastly, our collaborative efforts on behalf of the school system do not stop at Methodist projects. The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance helps sponsor a project called “Beyond Coexistence.” The aim of “Beyond Coexistence” is to give interfaith partners an opportunity to work together on something that benefits the community. Last year a group of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others spent a day working at the Community Food Bank together. This summer, we begin work on a project to renovate the teacher’s lounge at Lanier Elementary School. The schedule is as follows:

Wednesday, the 29th at 6pm to do initial clean up and demo.
Monday, July 11th at 10am to paint and load new furnishings
Sunday, July 21st  6pm to install new cabinets and final cleaning

If you have expertise and a will to help show appreciation to teachers—we’d welcome your support and help.

I know some of our church people serve individually as reading tutors at Sequoyah Elementary, are vital members of school PTAs, and keeping students and teachers in our thoughts and prayers. The bottom line is, in the midst of an historic budget shortfall for public education, we as people of faith can make a difference in tangible ways!