Rector's Ramblings February 22, 2017
Before I start rambling I will get to the point: I would love for you to consider being a mentor, a tutor, or finding another way to support our ongoing work at Burroughs-Molette through Glynn Episcopal Ministries. The kids and the community around that school can use your help and they are ready to put as many people to work as we can send their way. Let me know if you are up for it, and keep reading.
Now, let me tell you more about how things are going at Burroughs-Molette (BMES) since I last shared details with the congregation. For those of you who didn’t hear my sermon on BMES and the work we were beginning to engage in there, I will give you a brief overview. BMES, located on Lee Street, is the poorest of the Glynn County Elementary schools. Approximately 97% of their student body is on the free and reduced lunch program, a program based on income levels established by the State of Georgia. Glynn Episcopal Ministries (GEM), a coalition of Episcopal churches in the county has “adopted” BMES to help improve the learning culture for its students. All the work Christ Church does at BMES happens through GEM.
Our overall goal is to do whatever we can to support students, teachers, and the administrators at the school, so that the children who attend that school can achieve better academic outcomes. Paradoxically, the teachers and administrators at a school like BMES face incredible challenges yet have fewer overall resources to address them. For example, the closest elementary school to Christ Church, Oglethorpe Point, has an active and robust PTA that manages to raise tens of thousands of dollars a year to support initiatives at the school. The PTA also nets hundreds of hours of volunteer time as well.
BMES has no such structure or source of additional funds so classrooms have the bare essentials and less frequent special equipment and supplies. I’ll also say here that the teachers and administrators at BMES are top notch and hard working. I have been impressed and touched by their dedication and care for their students. When you see the “grades” the school receives reported in the newspaper, please don’t assume it comes as the result of poor leadership or poor teaching. With the challenges at BMES, there is much to celebrate, even with scores as low as they are.
In addition to what we did last year, in this school year our efforts have included a number of initiatives, although I won’t list them all. At the start of the school year, we partnered with Southern Soul Barbecue to offer a fun meal for BMES’s back to school night. The meal helped them get a record turnout of parents who met with their children’s teachers and learned how they could best help their kids with their school work. We have also supplied a number of the grades with additional teaching supplies for the Eureka Math curriculum that Glynn County Schools uses. There are “supplemental” items that can help teach kids math that are not included in the basic curriculum, but which are available for an additional investment. GEM provided funds for at least three grade levels to acquire those items.
The after-school tutoring program has also gotten started, in large part through the volunteers that GEM recruited. Folks like Dick and Sharon Moser and Kim Chitty meet with kids for one hour on Wednesday afternoons (2:30-3:30) to help the kids work on their problem subjects. Te Bowles has special training with kids who have learning disabilities and has volunteered those skills to the team at BMES too. It might be going over math facts, or playing some kind of learning game, or helping a child read. It’s a great opportunity to serve in a quiet, subtle way yet have a big impact. We also have a number of folks who mentor students as well. Mentoring can happen at various points throughout the day and involve less than an hour commitment once per week. There are also opportunities to help teachers in their classrooms as Sarah and Tony Kreimborg have done.
We have worked to line up a school-wide assembly and a few field trips with the OCEARCH shark tracking vessel docked in Brunswick right now. We have purchased items the gymnasium needed right away and will need as construction on the new school begins and they lose their playground area. Taking a cue from the PTA at Oglethorpe, we also started a teacher appreciation program where a pair of volunteers take a day each month to visit all the classrooms in the school, giving teachers a special treat and letting them know how appreciated they are. We also have three of our GEM members now serving on the School Council for BMES (I am one of the three). The principal realized how serious we have been about supporting their school and invited us to go “all in” and serve the school in this important, state-mandated function.
BMES will get a new school in the 2018-2019 school year, which will be wonderful; the current school building is very run down. Life at BMES will get harder in the short term because for nearly two years, there will be very little parking for staff and parents, and there will be no outdoor play area. Construction will also make walking to and from the school more difficult, as well. But, the light at the end of the tunnel will help everyone manage until the new school opens. Even when that happens, there won’t be a playground with equipment. Playground equipment is not in the budget for Glynn County School updates. But that’s down the road a bit.
To all those who have helped at BMES and those who have sent financial support to GEM for our work there, I want to say thank you. Our efforts are making a difference in the school. Poverty is a cyclical and generational problem, and our efforts, which we intend to build on and expand, can be a small part of helping shift the long-term dynamic in a community. As many of us know, education is a key factor, and early childhood education sets the stage for all that comes after. GEM will continue to partner with BMES and anyone else who can help us make a difference in this particular school.
I’ll close with a story that highlights a bit of the challenge involved with educating students at BMES. Earlier this year, a high-ability fifth grader was notably missing school and began to have missing and late assignments. The teacher, administrators, and others visited the child’s mother in her home, after school, to see how they could work together to help the young man succeed. They explained how gifted her son was and that if he stayed with his schooling, he could do anything he wanted. Unfortunately, she was not receptive. She didn’t agree that a HS diploma would make a meaningful difference in his life at this point and was skeptical of the visit and its intentions. Ultimately there was no commitment to better attendance and work. Thankfully, this is not how all parents are, but I’m sure it is also not isolated. Cyclical poverty is crushing when it comes to dreams and aspirations. Solutions are not always easy or quick.
If you’d like to volunteer or donate money towards this work, please email me or send me your contributions. Checks can be made out to Christ Church with “GEM BMES” on the memo line. I can connect volunteers with the school and get you going quickly. If, by chance, you had expressed interest last year and were not contacted by the school, let me know that too and we’ll rectify it immediately. I’m honored to be a small part of helping BMES become an even better school, and I am grateful for all those who can do the same in their own way. If you feel so called, please join us.
Almighty Father, who didst send thy only Son, that through him all men might be saved: So consecrate the lives of those whom thou dost call to teach, that, being themselves led by thee, they may lead their pupils in the paths of everlasting life; through the same our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.