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California Educators Seek to Join With Churches

California Educators Seek to Join With Churches
To Help Minority Students

Educators want to team with Black churches to help students pass California’s new mandatory high school exam and prepare for college.
Helping Black students, who scored below other groups on voluntary math and English exams last spring, was the subject of the Black Education Summit earlier this month. The conference, at Acts Full Gospel Church in Oakland, was attended by about 300 educators, parents, grandparents and church leaders.
Black churches long have promoted education in their communities.
“The church is the oldest institution we have,” says L.E. VanHook, senior pastor at Community Church for Christ in Oakland. “We’re trying to do anything and everything to help our young people.”
One way to do that may be through a new partnership between community colleges, state universities and faith-based organizations proposed by Dr. Jacqueline Mimms, an assistant vice president at the University of California Office of the President.
Mimms hopes to open 15 to 25 pilot academic centers in churches and community centers in the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside by the fall. The centers would provide after-school and weekend help in math, science, English and on standardized exams.
Mimms hopes to help Blacks, Hispanics and other groups underrepresented in colleges and universities.
“We’re not in the business of trying to champion any particular religion,” Mimms says, but “the church is a venue for delivering services and information within the community. That’s where families are. There’s a tremendous opportunity to reach large numbers of people.”
In Oakland, Brenda Knight hopes to adapt Mimms’ plan to help students pass the state’s new mandatory exams, the first of which was given to 10th-graders earlier this month. Knight, who is a community and government relations specialist for the Oakland Unified School District, wants to open tutoring centers in a handful of Black churches in west, east and north Oakland, areas where most of the city’s Black population lives. About 45 percent of Oakland Unified’s 54,000 students are Black.
State law requires students in the state’s public schools — beginning with the class of 2004 — to pass the California High School Exit Examination in order to receive a high school diploma. Tenth-graders who don’t pass the test this spring have seven more opportunities to try over the next two years.
Scores from exams taken voluntarily by almost 80 percent of the state’s ninth-graders last spring show there’s much work to be done in training students. Sixty-four percent of the roughly 370,000 students who took the English and language arts portion of the test passed it. But just 50 percent of Blacks who took the English portion passed it. Of the 365,000 students who took the math test, 44 percent passed. Among Blacks, 24 percent passed.
With the tutoring centers, Oakland community leaders hope to create an even closer link between churches and schools.
“That’s where the majority of our African American families are involved, in some church, some type of religion,” Knight says. “Leaders of the church, pastors, are the ones that can help provide that motivation parents need.” 

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