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Churches face call to serve the schools

Nicole Baker Fulgham talks with a picture of herself as a child on the screen.

Nicole Baker Fulgham knows what it is like to grow up in poverty. She knows what it is like to teach children in poverty. And she knows what her faith tells her: “We are made in God’s image. I can’t believe that God would only give potential to white, wealthy kids.”

So she has devoted her career to mobilizing people of faith to support public education reform and to close the academic achievement gap. She spoke on Saturday at the 2018 Kingdom Justice Summit, held at Upper House. (Selfless Ambition was one of the co-sponsors.) There were representatives of about 60 congregations in attendance.

She told of her time teaching in Compton, Calif., a city that is 65 percent Latino and 33 percent African-American. A quarter of the population lives below the federal poverty line. Yet Baker Fulgham took several lessons from her time there.

“I never met a parent of my kids who did not want their kids to achieve,” she said, pushing back against the stereotype that parents in poverty don’t care about their children’s education.

Outside of school, she described her church family as “a huge resource for my kids – that’s where my volunteer base came from.”

That church family did more as well. “They prayed for me, they prayed for my kids,” she recalled.

While she values the efforts made at individual schools, she argued that “we also have to focus on the system,” noting that 91 per cent of the children in the U.S. go to public schools, with that percentage even higher for children living in poverty.

“Where are the churches needed most? she asked.

She called for awareness of the issues, with churches helping to lead the conversation.

She called for action, with church-school partnerships build around what she called “compassionate service.” That includes having a way of measuring the success of the work church volunteers are doing in schools.

She called for advocacy by church people when they find a school system “not providing justice for all kids.”

In going about this work, Baker Fulgham said, how church people approach it all matters. She called for attitudes of humility, civility and compassion.

More information on her work – The Expectations Project – and resources for congregations can be found at http://www.expectations.org.