BEC: Helping Urban Churches Motivate & Support Underserved Students
Perhaps because Boston is home to over 50 colleges and universities (inside the I-95 belt), or perhaps because education has always been an important value in the New England culture, the desire to give our children a good education remains a top priority for Bostonians. And today it’s not just parents, educators, and politicians who focus on education, but urban churches and faith-based nonprofits also have education on their minds. Churches in Boston are looking for ways to motivate and support students in their communities, wanting to help them gain the skills they need to become successful, responsible individuals who have a positive impact on the city. And EGC is looking for ways to help churches meet these important goals.
Building upon research and needs assessment studies at EGC, the Boston Education Collaborative (BEC) was founded 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. To do this, we also have added a couple new initiatives—coordinating learning groups, and organizing peer trainings for Christians involved in education.
Over the past few years there have been shifts in the ways the BEC supports churches in educating their children as well as transitions as in our program staff, so we have used these changes as an opportunity to get a fresh start, to understand the needs and dreams of churches today, and to discern how we can best serve churches in meeting their objectives. This past year, the BEC conducted surveys to increase our understanding of the current education landscape and to provide insight into real leverage points and strategies to help churches best engage in education.
From the nearly 50 surveys gathered so far, we found that half the churches surveyed already offer programs geared toward education, with tutoring and extracurricular programs the most common. Most churches are saying that the greatest challenges to education faced by the people in their communities are financial aid for college, academic tutoring, and getting into college. Two other areas that many churches say need more attention are parent involvement and mentoring.
BUILDING BRIDGES FOR SHARED LEARNING
At the beginning of the last school year, the BEC planted a few seedlings. We began growing learning communities among people working at churches and Christian nonprofits as a way to encourage a spirit of mutual learning and support. We are not ignoring the needs identified by the churches, but neither are we taking the position of solution providers. Rather, we would like to see these churches build collaboration as a way to support each other and share insights as they address the needs they see. So the first thing we did was to launch what we call “Reflection & Learning Sessions.” These informal groups meet quarterly, and provide attendees with space to reflect on their work as well as the opportunity for peer fellowship and networking. Secondly, we launched two topic-specific “Learning Groups” last March to offer practical tools and resources that participants can use for tackling challenges in their work. So far, these gatherings have brought together over 40 different individuals who represent over 20 churches or faith-based organizations. Feedback has been very positive, and attendees say that these sessions are meeting their churches’ needs and providing them with practical, emotional, and spiritual support.
Where do we go from here? We will continue to convene and support a growing network of Christian leaders for reflection, learning, prayer, peer support, and coordinated action in education. We have started and we will continue to conduct youth focus groups to learn about the youth’s educational experiences and their perspectives about the role that churches can play in addressing educational needs. And we will be more intentional about bridging churches to each other, as well as introducing them to secular agencies that can serve as resources, to the school systems, and to other Christian, education-focused nonprofits.
by Steve Daman