School plan from pulpit Church leaders seek to strengthen schools' ties to community

5,000 volunteers wanted

Yearlong campaign to begin with rally to encourage parents

August 21, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

In an effort to harness the power of the pulpit to boost parent involvement in Baltimore's schools, school officials and church leaders in the city will team up on a yearlong "movement" they hope will attract more than 5,000 new volunteers by next spring.

The campaign, dubbed "Doing Our Part for Our Children, Our Schools," will begin Aug. 29 with a rally at Lake Clifton/Eastern High School.

That weekend, the Rev. Douglas Miles, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, is also asking that ministers, rabbis and other religious leaders incorporate messages about parental involvement into their worship services.

Church and school officials plan to hold rallies and workshops throughout the school year to emphasize the importance of involvement and teach parents mentoring and tutoring skills.

Miles, senior pastor at Koinonia Baptist Church, came up with the idea a few weeks ago and approached Robert Booker, schools chief executive officer, about it. Miles was inspired by the idea that each Sunday, he preaches not to faces in a congregation, but to parents.

Parents should know their children's teachers and principals as well as their neighbors, Miles said. Parents should think nothing of popping into city classrooms, tutoring children or organizing fund-raisers. Parents should feel that city schools are their schools, an integral part of their communities.

"I'd estimate that about 75 percent of my congregation is made up of families with children in public schools," Miles said. "The school board estimates that on any given day, there are 3,000 children in our schools who have no adult advocate. That's unconscionable. These are our schools. They are our responsibility."

More than 100 churches have signed on to the effort, and Miles hopes to attract at least 5,000 new parent and community volunteers to city schools by the end of the 1998-1999 school year.

Booker said the minister's efforts could make a real difference in the schools. "We know parents are important to improving schools," Booker said. "And I think this is a wonderful way to boost parent participation."

Miles envisions parents from his and other city churches acting as mentors or reading to students in city schools. They would get involved in parent-teacher organizations or sign up to shepherd a child's educationbecause he or she has no involved parents.

Miles said parents should be active in ensuring that city schools have adequate funding, and should be instrumental in holding school staff accountable for student performance.

"Parents should be involved in every aspect of these schools," Miles said. "We need to be working in concert with them to make sure our children have a fair chance at life."

This cooperative effort between the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and city school officials contrasts sharply with recent relations between the two groups.

The alliance was among the most vehement opposition to the 1997 state legislation that created the shared city-state management of city schools. The group said the change violated the spirit of home rule.

Last year, when former Northern High School Principal Alice Morgan-Brown was in the spotlight for summarily suspending two-thirds of her students, the ministerial alliance and another church group rallied to Brown's aid -- in opposition to interim schools chief Robert E. Schiller.

Miles said the effort is an attempt to reach out to the new schools chief, and an effort to let him know that he does not face the challenge of city school reform alone. But the ministerial alliance will maintain its opposition to shared control of the schools.

"We still believe we would be better off with home rule, and we do not believe this partnership was designed to work for city children," Miles said. "But the reality is the present system, and we feel we must work together to make it work as best it can for our children."

For a model of the kind of work he's talking about, Miles said, oneneed look no further than Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in Reservoir Hill. That church, through its involvement with after-school programs and other school activities, found a way to get more parents involved in schools. In May, it conducted a marriage ceremony of sorts between parents and school staff.

"What we decided was that just like a man and a woman make a covenant, the parents and teachers at the school needed to make a commitment, and they needed to go beyond the things they were already doing," said Karen Brown, associate pastor at the church.

"So we had a wedding. We had five couples, including the principal and our pastor and some parents and teachers, and it was a public way of stating their commitment to each other, to the school. They even jumped the broom and had a reception."

Brown said parents were deeply involved in the school, but the wedding took things to a new level. "I think it showed parents and teachers who weren't already involved that this was for real," Brown said.

Miles would like to see all city churches be so active.

"We want ministers of all faiths to reach out to the schools around them and embrace them," Miles said. "Historically, the church community has been involved in schools, but we're talking about a much more concentrated effort. Everyone needs to be on board."

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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