Summit shines spotlight on education

Aug. 20, 2014 @ 04:36 PM

Schools and churches have a mutual interest in the education of young people.

To explore ways they can join forces to improve learning, members of local church congregations, educators and community leaders met in an education summit at Vance-Granville Community College on Tuesday.

The summit was sponsored by the Granville-Vance Faith Initiative for Community Action.

Almost 100 attendees heard presentations by a panel and responded with their own perceptions of issues and concerns.

The Rev. Alex Gallimore, pastor of Hester Baptist Church in Granville County, said the Faith Initiative is working to transform health, education and economic development. Health was the focus in 2013-2014. With the summit, the organization is shifting its attention to education, particularly early childhood education. He said the faith community could help in three areas: literacy, mentoring and providing resources.

Actor and journalist David Hartman moderated a panel that included Sharon Hopper, literacy specialist with Vance County Schools; Tracey Bennett, chairwoman of the education department at Vance-Granville Community College; Tom Houlihan, former superintendent of Granville County Schools; and the Rev. John Heinemeier, pastor of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church.

Hopper said some children enter school without the knowledge and skills needed to succeed because of a number of factors, including poverty, lack of print materials in the home or parents who may be too busy working two jobs to give them full attention, to name a few.

“They can catch up,” she said. “That’s the good thing. They have 720 opportunities to learn.”

That’s the number of school days from kindergarten through grade three.

Asked about challenges, Hopper said class size makes it hard for teachers to have one-on-one time with their students.

And inadequate funding is a major issue.

“I buy a lot of things myself,” she said. “Most teachers do that.”

Bennett said it’s important to talk to children beginning at an early age. Even a shopping trip can be educational if the parent points out things so the child associates names with the objects.

“We sometimes think that learning starts at age four,” she said. “I beg to differ.”

Hartman asked her what people could do to help.

“If you have children and you have them in a child care program, really cherish those individuals,” she said. “They don’t make a lot of money, but they’re required to get a degree. They need a little more respect.”

Bennett advocated a closer working relationship between the school and the home.

“There is a disconnect in the teacher-parent relationship,” she said. “You have to help the family to help that child.”

Houlihan spoke of the importance of Smart Start, which focuses on the development and education of preschool children.

“Research shows there is a clear connection between pre-K, third grade, sixth grade and graduation,” he said.

In spite of problems in education, he was upbeat.

“When I see a group like this, I’m very optimistic,” he said.

Heinemeier described an after-school literacy program St. Cyprian conducts for children in grades one through five; each child gets 45 minutes of individual training.

The church also started a project to provide books to children. When it was successful, it was expanded to teenagers and then to adults.

“The most excited group in this program are the adults,” he said.

Time was provided for discussions at individual tables, after which the discussion leaders reported to the entire group. Their comments included the connection between child hunger and education, the need for one-on-one training and exhortations to celebrate success.

The Rev. Cassandra Sparrow, of the Washington Conference of the African American Episcopal Church, said, “It must not end tonight, and it cannot end with talk.”

Suggestions from the table discussions were collected to be used in planning steps forward.

Hartman gave his final assessment of the summit: “I haven’t heard of anything like this, 15 congregations getting together with school people. The energy they generated is fantastic.”


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The Granville-Vance Faith Initiative for Community Action is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its mission is to improve health, education and economic development in Granville and Vance counties through coordinated congregation action across faith communities. For more information on GVFICA and its work, go to