Introduced by Brian Corcoran, Managing Editor, Emmanuel Research Review
This issue takes a look at the history and recent collaboration between the Emmanuel Gospel Center’s Boston Education Collaborative (BEC) and the Boston Public Schools Faith-Based Partnerships. An increasing number of congregations and faith-based organizations are thinking about how they can assist public schools and various aspects of educational justice, and the BEC's story provides a model which can inform the church broadly when navigating the complexity of collaboration between private, faith-based organizations and an urban, public school system.
This issue also features an article by Lydia Johnson Reynolds on the partnership with the Boston Public Schools’ “Circle of Promise” initiative and the BEC's “Reflection and Learning Sessions” that provide tools, encouragement, networking, and support for people from churches and nonprofits working with students. We’ve also included a video interview with Ruth Wong, Director of the Boston Education Collaborative, and a link to download the BEC’s Guidebook for Boston Public Schools Faith-Based Partnerships.
The Boston Education Collaborative, a program of the Emmanuel Gospel Center, works with churches, schools, and nonprofits to empower underserved urban students with the education they need for transformation—in their lives and in their communities.
Building upon educational research and needs assessments, the BEC supports urban churches and organizations in strengthening their existing programs, starting new initiatives, evaluating the short- and long-term impact of their programs, coordinating learning groups, and organizing trainings. Churches and Christian organizations have been instrumental in having a positive impact in the lives of urban students and their families. However, these churches and organizations often face the challenges of:
- working in isolation from other Christian organizations;
- lacking the capacity to fully support their staff with professional development;
- lacking the know-how or connections to access resources;
- and funding instability and frequent staff turnover.
To be effective, these churches and Christian organizations need:
- a current understanding of urban education and the ways they can engage in the process of empowering urban students through education;
- support around resources, curriculum, and training;
- mental and physical space to evaluate and reflect on their programs;
- and opportunities to network with other churches and Christian nonprofits that also have educational programs.
Now in its 13th year (writing in 2012), the BEC has worked through various means towards its central mission of “working with churches, schools, and nonprofits to empower underserved urban students with the education they need for transformation—in their lives and in their communities.” Some of this experience has been featured in past Emmanuel Research Review issues and other publications.
In the August 2005 issue of the Emmanuel Research Review, “The Role of Churches in Mapping Out a Road to Higher Education,” Rudy Mitchell, Senior Researcher at EGC pointed out that “Churches and Christian ministries can play a significant role advising, motivating, and equipping young people to obtain a college education,” and he shared a case study by Edward R. Davis and Amy L. Sherman on church-based Higher Education Resource Centers (HERC) entitled, College Prep Ministry in Boston: León de Judá, which the BEC helped launch.
In the September-October 2010 issue of Inside EGC, in an article called “The Boston Education Collaborative: Helping Urban Churches Motivate & Support Underserved Students,” Steve Daman, senior writer at EGC, wrote about the beginning of the BEC’s “Reflection and Learning Sessions” which are built “upon research and needs assessment studies at EGC… to support urban churches and organizations in strengthening their existing education programs, starting new initiatives, and evaluating the short and long-term impact of their programs” through “coordinating learning groups, and organizing peer trainings for Christians involved in education.”
In the April 2011 issue of the Emmanuel Research Review, “The Boston Education Collaborative Church Survey Report,” by Laura Neal and Ruth Wong, provides a preliminary investigation and overview of how Boston-area churches are currently engaged in education, what areas of programming they are interested in further developing, and what resources are needed for them to become more involved in education. Even with some of the world’s most famous learning institutions in our backyard, Boston-area churches continue to assist and complement local public and private educational systems by providing a diverse spectrum of programs that reach beyond spiritual formation.
An Interview with Ruth Wong, BEC Director and Coordinator of Boston Public School Circle of Promise
In this interview, Ruth Wong talks about how she became involved in the BEC, the BPS Circle of Promise, and how their collaborative partnership is impacting students, teachers, and local schools. As an increasing number of congregations and faith-based organizations are thinking about how they can assist public schools and various aspects of educational justice, the BEC’s story provides a model which can inform the church broadly when navigating the complexity in collaboration between private, faith-based organizations and an urban, public school system. As Ruth points out, The Office of Community Engagement and Circle of Promise has an online survey for (Boston) Faith-Based Institution’s Resource Assessment: www.svy.mk/faithpartner
(See also Boston Public Schools’ blog “All About BPS” entry for Friday, December 7, 2012, titled “Ruth has Faith” http://www.allaboutbps.blogspot.com/2012/12/ruth-has-faith.html)
Guidebook for the Boston Public Schools Faith-Based Partnerships
The Guidebook for the Boston Public Schools Faith-Based Partnerships is a brief guide and resource for schools and faith-based institutions alike. It relies on the BPS’s Office of Community Engagement and Circle of Promise (CECoP’s) cumulative learning from interviews with leaders of partnering institutions, literature reviews of cases, articles, and publications local and abroad, and practical experiences in initiating and supporting such partnerships. Contact Ruth Wong (link below) for a free downloadable copy.
The Boston Education Collaborative's Partnership with Boston Public Schools
Exciting New Partnership for the BEC and Boston Public Schools
by Lydia Johnson Reynolds
When Boston’s Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Carol R. Johnson launched a new initiative called the Circle of Promise in January of 2010, BPS appointed Brian Barnes, a former BPS teacher and administrator as the coordinator for the program. Brian’s main initial emphasis was to support existing partnerships and create new partnerships within the Circle's geographic area, which includes 47 schools.
In the process of reaching out to principals and leaders of many faith-based institutions in Greater Boston, Brian contacted EGC because he knew about the Boston Church Directory, a publication and online resource of EGC, which he thought would be a helpful resource in finding potential community partners. Erik Nordbye, ministry associate in field research in our Applied Research department at that time, not only helped him with the directory information but also passed along his information to Ruth Wong, director of EGC’s Boston Education Collaborative (BEC), whose mission aligns well with the Circle of Promise goals.
Ruth contacted Brian and subsequently became a part of his advisory committee, working along with him and others toward some of the key early efforts of the Circle of Promise. EGC’s network and Brian’s own network complemented one another well, and Brian and Ruth had a natural sense of shared purpose in bringing together faith-based and school partners. Ruth was particularly excited for this partnership because the BPS Office of Community Engagement and Circle of Promise (CECoP) was extending an invitation to the entire community to support schools and families.
In May of 2011, CECoP, along with faith and community partners, hosted a kickoff event (left image) attended by Superintendent Johnson and about 200 people, including more than 20 school leaders and about 50 faith-based organizations. From surveys at this event and its follow-up, CECoP began to focus on efforts to meet these two main identified needs: matching the resources of the community organizations with needs within the schools (and vice versa) and technical assistance in setting up and evaluating partnerships.
Throughout the following school year they continued to survey people engaged in existing partnerships and gathered again in March of 2012 to talk further about sustainable partnerships. Of course these partnerships look really different from school to school, but those engaged in them were able to learn from each other’s experiences. They invited one of EGC’s nearest neighbor—St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church—to share about how their partnership endured through multiple leadership changes at the Blackstone Elementary School. In addition to the March workshop, Brian and Ruth presented about the Circle of Promise at a BPS-wide conference, and the CECoP even hosted the US. Department of Education and President Obama’s Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for a visit to see the work that has been done so far.
As Brian prepared to start a doctorate program this school year, he recommended Ruth to replace him in his BPS position due to her substantial contributions to the project. Brian also valued EGC’s substantial reputation in the community, commenting that “EGC historically has been in the business of supporting youth in this city, so the work [of the Circle of Promise] is validated even more by its involvement.”
Ruth was appointed Coordinator for the 2012-2013 school year and will continue in her role as the Director of the BEC. Ruth sees her BPS role as a critical stabilizing factor for supporting partnerships through turnover within either the schools or the community organizations, and is excited to continue engaging new partners both within the Circle and throughout Boston. “These two positions fit together in a way that allows Ruth to readily pursue both, and we're excited for the opportunity for strategic partnership with the BPS,” says Jeff Bass, EGC Executive Director.
EGC is excited for this opportunity for extensive partnership with BPS with the alignment of the BEC’s work and that of BPS’s Office of Community Engagement and Circle of Promise through Ruth’s engagement in both. It’s always interesting to see how the various phases of ministry unfold over the years! Here is another element to add to the ongoing narrative of the BEC timeline.
Since its founding, the BEC has helped make an impact on church-based programs in Greater Boston that help urban residents reach educational goals.
- 1999: helped launch church-based Higher Education Resource Centers. Three continue to serve college-bound, urban students in the South End, Dorchester, and Worcester.
- 2003: created the New City Scholars Program through a partnership with Gordon College. This successful program, which is now called the Clarendon Scholars Program, is run by Gordon, and is in its 7th year.
- 2007: helped Greater Boston Vineyard start an ongoing, two-year, college readiness program.
- 2009 and 2010: developed learning relationships with leaders from over 50 churches and ministries to understand how they are already serving their students and to assess the needs for further support.
- 2009-2011: convened and supported a growing network of Christian leaders for reflection, learning, prayer, peer support, and coordinated action. Over 40 individuals representing more than 25 churches and organizations participated in BEC learning community events and trainings.
- 2009-2011: helped the Episcopal Quincy Chinese Center with program and staff development. We helped to launch a college preparation program for immigrant Chinese high school students.
- 2011: took a leadership role to support the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Circle of Promise Initiative’s efforts to foster partnerships between schools and faith-based institutions. We helped to plan, prepare, and facilitate a May event that gathered more than 150 school principals, staff, faith leaders, and congregants to hear about different models for partnerships and for dialogue. We are continuing work with the BPS to complete follow-up work for this event and to help with partnership matches.
The Circle of Promise
The Circle of Promise strategy is a shared initiative of Boston’s Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Carol R. Johnson as part of BPS’s larger five-year plan to improve academic outcomes for students within the geographic area shown in the red circle (left image). There are 47 schools within the Circle, covering all grades. Ten of the current 11 “turnaround” (designated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as significantly underperforming for several years) schools within the Boston school system are located within the Circle.
What’s new about the work being done within the Circle is that BPS is working to extend its community engagement work to include the largely untapped resource of faith-based institutions. Dr. Johnson recognized that faith-based institutions—including churches, mosques, synagogues, various other religious centers, and faith-based nonprofits—are a part of the fabric of Boston with a long history of supporting and nurturing the growth and education of this city’s children.
The Circle is part of the BPS’s Office of Community Engagement and Circle of Promise (CECoP), which is currently focused on two main areas: improving the school choice process and fostering partnerships between schools and community organizations. EGC’s Boston Education Collaborative has been a part of the work in both of these areas, including helping to build faith and community partnerships with schools, serving on the stakeholders’ group for the school choice process, and helping co-facilitate discussions at community meetings.
BEC Reflection and Learning Sessions provide tools, encouragement, networking, and support for people from churches and nonprofits working with students
The BEC began offering Reflection and Learning Sessions (R&Ls) in fall of 2009 as a way to support people from churches and Christian non-profits as they, in turn, support students. Since then, the BEC has hosted these informal sessions quarterly as an opportunity for the attendees to take a step back from their work lives, reflect on what’s been happening, and learn from it. R&Ls have also given attendees time for fellowship together and opportunities to network among their peers. The BEC has added an evening session, which duplicates the morning session, in order to accommodate participants who can’t attend during the day.
Each session includes some fellowship time followed by a topic for discussion or presentation. Usually about 10-12 people attend the morning sessions and three to five attend the evening ones. During the first year of the R&Ls, the discussion theme was “transformation.” This past year the discussions centered on systems thinking topics, and participants were able to do some systems mapping of elements of their work.
Here are stories of a few participants impacted by the sessions.
- Andrew Walker is a Sunday School teacher at First Lutheran Church of Boston. Andrew has participated for the last school year, requesting time off from his daytime job to attend. “[The sessions have been] very instructive and a great opportunity for conversation with other people in similar pursuits,” he says. Andrew particularly appreciated learning about EGC’s systems thinking tools and says he is “eager for more” in the coming year.
- Jovan Zuniga is the Director of the Salvation Army’s Bridging the Gap program in Boston. Jovan, whose program serves court-involved youth, has attended the R&Ls since August 2010. “I always make room for the sessions because I value the chance to step out of what I do and reflect,” he says. Jovan has used the R&Ls as an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of his work and think together with his peers on how to go back and be more effective. “The sessions enable me to gather with others doing similar work, which is encouraging and educational. Overall, the meetings make my work better.”
- David Edwards is the Director of the Bridging the Gap program in Cambridge. David has also participated in the R&Ls since August 2010, and has really valued the support—particularly spiritual support—and networking opportunities made possible by the R&Ls. He took what he learned in the sessions on systems thinking this last year back to work, and it has strongly influenced the way he works now. He mentioned the bonus of not only reflecting together with his colleagues during the sessions but also connecting outside of the R&L sessions and being able to partner together and share resources to address specific work challenges.
Christian educators, youth workers and program staff in Greater Boston are invited to participate in the R&Ls. For more information, contact Ruth Wong at rwong[at]egc.org.