Area churches, faith groups aim to help foster education

Published on Friday, 28 June 2013 22:54 - Written by By REBECCA HOEFFNER rhoeffner@tylerpaper.com

While some in the religious community are concerned about the lack of religious curriculum in public schools, a few faithful in Tyler are proving that you don’t have to preach to have an impact.

“I believe churches fail to understand that public schools are an untapped mission field,” said Joel Enge, community liaison hired with a grant that the University of Texas in Tyler received to turn Boulter Middle School, a Title One school, into a science and technology-focused campus.

He enlisted volunteers from Colonial Hills Baptist Church for a mentoring program. “There’s no other place where people of such a wide diversity come together … Just living and loving (makes a difference),” he said. “Not to preach, but to go in and be Jesus without proselytizing. Showing the students we care for them allows them to experience the love of Christ through us. I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”

It’s a sentiment that is spread across multiple faiths, said Nicole Baker Fulgham, president and founder of The Expectations Project, an interfaith organization that raises awareness among religious communities about the needs of low-income children in public education. Her latest book, “Educating All God’s Children,” was released in April.

Only one in 14 children from a low-income community will ever graduate from college, according to theexpectationsproject.org.

Mrs. Fulgham argues that people of all faiths should get involved with the public school system, simply because of their religious beliefs. A number of congregants from Congregation Beth El in Tyler sit on the TISD Foundation Board, and Congregation Ahavath Achim is heavily involved in Tyler Day Nursery.

“It goes back to people of faith’s history of connecting to justice and equity,” Mrs. Fulgham said. “Education has those same justice and equity issues.”

Still, when issues championed by the religious come to mind, improving education isn’t usually one of them, Mrs. Fulgham said.

“I think there are two issues — there’s the issue of a lack of awareness, and then once awareness is shared, it seems like such a big problem,” she said. “There are longer term systemic challenges, but churches are good at advocacy because they are well organized … A lot of churches and synagogues are already involved that are truly focused on academics. It’s the best way to approach helping kids in public schools, and it’s been welcomed.”

In Tyler, it’s a trend that’s spreading. Green Acres Baptist, Grace Community and Soma Church are involved in other Title One schools that are part of the Gospel Village program. Southside Baptist sends volunteers to encourage teachers and works on building projects at Dogan Middle School and Jack Elementary in Tyler.

“We have to realize that the separation of church and state isn’t a hindrance to loving students, faculty and staff,” said Sherri White, church member at Southside Baptist Church who volunteers for the ministry at Dogan Middle School in Tyler.

For Mrs. Fulgham, teaching in Compton, Calif., with Teach For America was one of the experiences that helped her realize the passion for educating.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to really champion the potential of all people,” she said. “Quality of education has to be the key as we work to unleash each person’s potential.”