Schools seek help of church volunteers

Program aims to make adult guidance available to every student in city

`Question is: Is there the will?'

October 12, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school system launched an ambitious partnership with the city's faith community yesterday, with the goal of providing tutors, mentors and other support for children at every one of the public schools.

At a kickoff breakfast at New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore, school board Chairwoman Patricia L. Welch called on religious leaders of all faiths to rally their members and adopt Baltimore's more than 170 schools and 96,000 students.

"We don't have time to decide who will do it," Welch told a crowd of several hundred people, including pastors, city politicians, principals and other school administrators. "All of us have to do it."

Welch said some city students have been through the juvenile justice system, live in group homes or are in foster care, and that far too many drop out of high school.

"We have the strength and the ability in our churches, in our mosques, in our temples, in our synagogues" to help, she said. "The question is: Is there the will?"

The school system has tried a campaign of this sort before. In 1998, then-Chief Executive Officer Robert Booker and the Rev. Douglas I. Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church, launched "Doing Our Part," a drive designed to encourage partnerships between schools and churches and more parent and community involvement in education.

That effort never took root.

This time, school officials and religious leaders said, the key will be following through.

"I think our church and this ministry can do work of inspiration," the Rev. Harold A. Carter, pastor of New Shiloh, said after the event. "Basically, making students and parents aware - also teachers - of the need to connect with the motivational side of life, the spiritual side."

Carter said his 6,000-member church would likely get involved with schools nearest to his parish, including Matthew A. Henson Elementary and Frederick Douglass High School.

"It has to be consistent, because the hopes of young people are very fragile, and they become bonded with an adult and suddenly that adult is no longer available," he said. "That's an emotional scar in a person's life, and sometimes that person may not recover from it."

Chief Academic Officer Cassandra W. Jones took off her administrator's hat and donned a white choir robe for part of the morning to lead the new All City High School Mass Choir - made up of students from City College, Douglass and Lake Clifton-Eastern - in its singing debut.

The gospel selection "Great is Thy Faithfulness" inspired rousing applause from the crowd.

In later remarks, Jones said the faith community would be able to reach children "in ways the school system cannot."

As a result of the new campaign, she said, no child should be without an active adult playing a significant role in his or her life.

Veronica Brown, principal of Lake Clifton, who attended the "Inter-Faith Ecumenical Breakfast," said all help will be appreciated - even if it's a single volunteer hour.

"It doesn't have to be a long, extended kind of thing," she said. "We're saying, `Bring whatever kind of talents you have and help us.'"

Lake Clifton has begun a partnership with Baltimore Rising, a church-based mentoring program launched this year by the mayor, who was in attendance yesterday. Events being planned include workshops on teen-age fatherhood and goal-setting as well as a November retreat, or "Male Convocation," for 100 African-American youths.

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