Making a Difference in Public & Private Education Through Collaboration
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children…because they are no more. Jeremiah 31:15
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me….” Matthew 19:14
With the beginning of the school year we have an opportunity to bring some attention to one of the key expressions of mission in our neighborhoods. In rural, suburban and urban settings, we all have opportunities to engage our children in meaningful ways to enhance their learning and development as children made in the image of God. Our Diocese is gifted with some real-time engagement with children in various ways. Some of these are: Day care centers (like the one at St. Paul’s, Rochester), Freedom Kids (St. Stephen’s and Two Saints), Kids Club (St. Mark’s and St. John’s), Literacy Volunteers (St. Thomas’), Right on School (Two Saints), School 9 and similar mentoring opportunities in public schools (St. Paul’s, Antiracism, with other faith partners), Art’s Academy and Neighbor’s Night (St. Peter’s, Geneva), After-school tutoring (St. Peter’s, Bloomfield and other places) and Creation Week (St. Mark’s, Penn Yan and other congregations).* Other positive impacts on our children occur through our partnership in mission with Rural and Migrant Ministries, Sheen Housing, Children’s Agenda, Rochester City School District and Friends of Educational Excellence.
We give thanks to God for these and other engagements with children in their current contexts. We are blessed to have committed leaders take ownership of these engagements, several of which are directly with the public education system, and will continue with our commitment in future. Most of these are supported by local and diocesan budget allocations through parish or other mission partnerships. We are demonstrating our unflinching commitment to engage with the public education system in the spirit of Resolution B025 adopted by General Convention of 2009.
Four years ago, I called upon a small group of leaders to study the possibility of starting an Episcopal School in the city in the spirit of Resolution A128 adopted by General Convention of 2003. This call was also inspired by what we knew anecdotally then. What we now know with empirical details is that one of Rochester’s major challenges is poverty. According to a December 2013 report by The Community Foundation of Rochester, Rochester is the fifth poorest city in the country with a challenged education system. It is the second poorest among comparable sized cities and also the city with the third highest concentration of extremely poor neighborhoods among the top 100 metropolitan areas in the country.
We know that the cycle of poverty is most effectively broken and development sustained by good education for all our children. When the feasibility study revealed that we were not going to be successful in starting a faith-based Episcopal school, some of us were disappointed. However, one of the participants in that study, Nazareth Elementary School, seemed to share many of our values in a Christian faith-based elementary school setting. Nazareth Elementary School is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, who are not part of the Roman Catholic Parochial School system. They are in the process of becoming an independently registered not-for-profit organization with a separate 501c3.
For over two years now, under the leadership of the Rev. Mary Ann Brody, a group of Episcopalians were commissioned by Diocesan Council to explore the possibility of a mission partnership with this particular school, which is among the last ones standing in the city and providing quality faith-based education. This group has communicated periodically with invitations for informational field visits and more during this period. Such opportunities are still available. Diocesan Council has endorsed their recommendation that we continue to be engaged in this discernment with Nazareth as they figure out their identity as a separate non-profit and as we figure out how to be in partnership with them. While this is being worked out, Diocesan Council responded to a request to provide scholarship support for those children who desire a faith-based education that is compatible with a progressive Diocese like ours. Over 60% of the students attending NES receive scholarships and only 1/3 of the students are Roman Catholic. In my opinion, this is primarily one more missional partnership in educating our children living in a vulnerable city. Secondarily, it is an ecumenical partnership with the faith-based practice of education unique to Nazareth with a clear invitation for our women and men, lay and clergy leaders, regardless of sexual orientation to participate. For more details, please refer to the NES White Paper on our Diocesan website (http://bit.ly/1sm7Na3).
God’s mission is alive and well in our broken yet wonderful world. Our choice here is not between public and private education. I think it is better to choose both. All our children matter. We have chosen to be engaged in both because we have leaders who are committed to both approaches in guarding and developing our children. I ask for your prayers and participation in any of these offerings. Please feel free to contact the Deans if you have general questions about our engagement in the education mission of our children. If you have specific concerns or questions about our discernment with Nazareth Elementary School, please contact the Rev. Mary Ann Brody, and if you have questions about mission partnerships please contact a representative of Diocesan Council. The Rochester and Monroe District Deans are in the process of planning an inspirational, informational and coordinated event bringing visibility to various expressions of Diocesan education mission among our children.
I invite you to consider these things with an open mind. As a fairly new immigrant to this country, I am aware of the enormous gift of engagement with the “other” as I am also familiar with the draining power of prejudice. As enlightened people of faith we are invited to be in dialogue with those who are different from us. In an increasingly polarized world, there are also several coalitions responding to Jesus’ invitation to see ourselves in the other and this is especially true in the contemporary mission field. We cannot do most of mission by ourselves, but we can collaborate with compatible partners and make a considerable difference. We are learning to partner with others who are different from us, yet pursuing faithfully to answer Christ’s call to embrace abundant life. Ancient enmities and divisions are being reconciled and healed in the mission fields of our time. In the name of our children for whom Rachel continues to weep and in the name of Mary’s child who redeemed the world, we have the opportunity to keep calm, prayerfully study the facts, overcome whatever needs overcoming, and partner with others to help our children and ourselves in wholesome ways.
Your fellow servant in Christ,
*If your congregation’s involvement in educational mission is not listed here I apologize; please let me know.