Many of you are familiar with the film “Waiting for Superman” which cites several of the many challenges with our educational system. It is these types of messages that tell me that this Congregation made a very wise decision when in November of 2009 the Congregation via a Congregational vote made a commitment as a whole congregation to enhance Education and Literacy with a focus in our surrounding community.
Why wait for Superman? Are Superheroes really the answer or is it the commitment of communities such as the Congregation of this Church which will make a difference in supporting and enhancing the work of some terrific educators who are in the schools? Our November, 2009 discussions on Education and Literacy were passionate, insightful and persuasive. With Janice Tostos’ and Rev Nate’s Books on Tape Project and with Scott Youman’s Moments of Literacy work, we took a few steps toward walking our talk. The August 2010 School Supply Drive for the Andrew Jackson School lead by Connie Simon and Lisa Handy made an impact far greater than the Task Force predicted. No, we did not meet our goal of participation by 50% of this congregation but the delight, appreciation and energizing impact of the Andrew Jackson School community told us that First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia made a difference and also taught us that making a difference can be pretty straightforward and simple.
We now have an opportunity for 100% engagement of this congregation. That is the Holiday New Book Drive for the new Andrew Jackson School Library which is soon to be opened. How can this Congregation as a whole quite easily walk the talk of enhancing Education and Literacy in our community? By having everyone in the community join in. The process is simple.
In the lobby there is a tree decorated with ornaments. Each ornament contains the title of a book selected by the faculty of the Andrew Jackson School and a bookplate to recognize the contribution. You select an ornament, purchase the book, complete and adhere the bookplate inside the front cover of the book, bring it to church and place it in the box in the lobby. ‘Feeling financially strapped but want to participate? Partner with others in the congregation to buy a book. Want to recognize a friend or relative this holiday? Buy a book and celebrate your friendship using the bookplate and a “Gift Given in Your Name” postcard.
So why the Andrew Jackson School? You’re right there are plenty of schools with major needs. But in the spring of 2010, Jennifer Zanck, a member of our Congregation approached the Social Justice Ministry Team and shared some information with us about the Andrew Jackson School and her efforts as co-chair of a civic association to work through the many challenges of this school making it a neighborhood school attended by many in this mixed ethnic and socio-economic South Philadelphia community. The changes occurring as a result of the work of this civic association are inspiring and ongoing. The challenges: Currently 338 students attend the school, 70% coming from families living below the poverty level. The school is currently labeled an Empowerment School meaning it does not meet standards in some areas, There are seven primary major languages spoken by the families which attend the school and with dialects, the number blossoms even more. The bright spots: They have a terrific new principal whose energy, enthusiasm and passion for education and this community are awesome. They are getting a new library to replace the defunct one. A science center is planned, the school is beginning to look more vibrant and welcoming. And as demonstrated by the school community’s response to our August school supply drive, it welcomes the support and interaction of the greater community.
So you’re all set after this service to select an ornament and contribute a book, but you want even more engagement? Please read carefully the announcements about the Reading Buddies Program and/or talk with Sharon Tomalin or me about becoming an ongoing Reading Buddy at the Andrew Jackson School or at our neighboring Greenfield School. It’s a wonderful and easy opportunity to share your love of reading with a child and at the same time strengthen our church’s commitment to one another and to social justice.
First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia can make a difference. Our talk about education and literacy was passionate; now let’s demonstrate that it’s not necessarily superheroes, but committed, loving communities who will strengthen education and literacy.