PERSPECTIVE: As school kids struggle, what can churches to do help?

Earlier this year, Learn to Earn Dayton published Know the Gap, Close the Gap, a report showing success measures for young people in Montgomery County. The statistics are sobering for our entire community.

• More than 6 in 10 Montgomery County children come to Kindergarten behind.

• Almost 2 in 10 of our students don’t graduate from high school.

• Only 1 in 3 of our high-school graduates get a college degree within 6 years.

As disturbing as these numbers are, the statistics are hauntingly worse for African-American children — especially African-American boys. Poverty is part of the problem. But when you break out achievement data by race and income, the gaps persist even for African-American children who are not poor.

African-American children are just as capable, curious and full of potential as their white peers. They are not the problem. We, the adults, are doing something wrong when:

• Only about 10 percent of African-American boys start school prepared for kindergarten.

• More than 1 in 3 African-American young men are not graduating from high school.

• Suspension rates decrease for white students according to family income at their school, but not for African-American students.

These stubborn statistics are consigning too many of our children — African-American and white — to lives of hardship and disappointment. Our community — and our world — is losing out on their unrealized potential and their untapped gifts. We’re failing them in unconscionable and, yes, immoral ways. When we fail them, we are compromising what is truly possible for our community.

That’s why we and numerous other faith leaders are coming together and asking others to join with us to become an “Own My Block” church. There’s so much in the world that we can’t control, but we can at least support and help those living in our midst. We can take responsibility for children living within and near our communities of faith.

To be specific, we are asking “Own My Block” churches to increase their outreach in support of young people.

What can faith leaders and congregations do to help? The opportunities are limitless and not always difficult or costly. For example:

To succeed in school and life, children need to be readers. We can organize and support book drives; promote reading at Vacation Bible School and Sunday School; and call on children to read in our worship services.

We can ask every adult in our congregations to be engaged first with their own children, but also with the children of their relatives, friends and neighbors. We need more adults taking children to libraries, museums and enriching events; helping them with homework; and stepping up to tutor.

All of us can ask children what they’re learning at school and about their career and college plans. Showing interest in a child’s school success and exploring with children their personal hopes inspires them to dream and plan for a meaningful future.

We can communicate from the pulpit and in our conversations with moms and dads about the power of Preschool, explaining that children who go to high quality Preschool are more ready for Kindergarten and better readers. We can make sure our families join the Preschool Promise, which is making affordable, high quality Preschool available to more children across our community.

We can organize summer meal programs at our churches, offer after-school homework and enrichment help and celebrate our young people who are excelling in school and choosing to earn degrees and marketable credentials.

When we support our children, we are living out our missions and ministries. But we need others to make this commitment. We urge others to join us in becoming an “Own My Block” church.

We are reminded of theologian John Wesley’s powerful call, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

What block can you own?

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Yvette R. Kelly-Fields is executive director of the Wesley Community Center. The Rev. Vanessa Oliver Ward is co-pastor of Omega Baptist Congregation.