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New York City
August 2001

Divine Intervention: Chancellor Honors Church Involvement
by Kahdeidra Martin

On the eve of Summer School 2001, NYC Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy spent the day addressing two Brooklyn churches and helping to make over 200,000 phone calls to families of summer school-bound students to “reaffirm the message that public education is the way to strengthen the next generation.” In order to bolster summer school attendance this year, the Board of Education (BoE) has been strengthening partnerships with faith-based organizations such as Berean Missionary Baptist church, located in northern Crown Heights.

During Berean’s welcome session, Levy sat in the front pew, greeting and shaking the hands of nearby children. After a Scripture reading and offering, the congregation delighted in the praises of the Son-shine Choir compromised of Berean’s youngest members. Strong, sweet and beautiful, their voices filled the space between member and visitor; photographer and parishioner; Christian and Jew as they listened, proud believers in the promise of education.

Of the children enrolled in summer school this year, Levy reminded congregates that “their future[s] depend not only on us as educators, but on you as a community.” In this case, he literally was ‘preaching to the choir,’ for Berean and other churches like it have been active in community schools for decades. “[They] have traditionally been the backbone for rallying support for public education,” said the Chancellor after the service, explaining the role of churches in public education.

Among community-based organizations, churches in particular have led efforts in sponsoring ‘wraparound’ programming, which provides students with free or inexpensive educational and recreational activities after summer school classes. Since working families strain to find affordable childcare after summer school days, the BoE instituted the programming to help eradicate sporadic or non-attendance.

Churches “have helped with efforts to gain access to communities when we otherwise could not,” Levy beamed. “Particularly Black churches have been fabulous; they have really rallied to the cause.”

As a member of the Chancellor’s Interfaith Advisory Council, a multi-faith consortium, Berean has direct influence on the BoE’s policy decisions and proposals. “The Church has always been there, playing a role in education; but nothing was ever documented,” said Vivian Bright, Berean’s Business Administrator and Educational Liaison. “For years, we have provided tutoring services, worked to strengthen the PTA and allowed local schools to use our facilities.”

Berean adopted the neighboring PS 335 and has maintained a “very close involvement” with the school since 1985. Bright explained that most of the children are familiar with the church and respect its authority. “Sometimes when children misbehaved, the principal would call our pastor, and he would speak to the kids instead of [having them be sent] straight to special education,” said Bright. “This method was effective in alleviating some of the disciplinary problems.” As a member of the Interfaith Council, “we now receive the same, first-hand material as the superintendent’s and principal’s office; we are better informed.”

Bright and others on the Interfaith Council are especially concerned with safety in schools and vocational training. At a time when computer-literate and multi-talented workers are in demand, every parent wants her child to be prepared. “To be honest, every child will not attend college,” said Bright. Her words echo those of the Chancellor who received the most applause from congregates when he mentioned the importance of cultivating the artistic, athletic and service interests of students in addition to academics. Bright continued, “our children come to school with a multitude of problems from parent unemployment and lack of health care to inadequate housing.”

Every third Sunday is Youth Sunday at Berean. Children who have received a good report card for the month are marched to the front of the church where the entire congregation shares in their accomplishment. “It’s very important that we encourage our kids,” said Bright. “We provide scholarships for all college bound students. [Students] receive $1,000 in two $500 installments.” All programs are fostered through the church’s own funding.

Berean is one of several groups moved by divine conviction. Bright best revealed this conviction when she assured, “This is what the Lord would want us to do, and this is our mandate.” Levy, his presence a show of solidarity and gratitude, said, “In part, this [visit] is my way of saying ‘Thanks.’”


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