Churches Join Schools to Tackle Educational Challenges

By Kalie Lowrie – Baptist News Global

on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 Posted in Stories, Happenings, School Partnership Network

Parent University provides community members, including churches, a way to help schools better educate children in a Texas city.

Two years ago, Principal Marta Plata of Manuel Jara Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, recognized her school needed help.

She realized her teachers could work tirelessly every year to educate students and empower them to be their best, but without positive reinforcement at home, many of the classroom lessons would not change student behaviors.

The school collaborated with Primera Baptist Church in Fort Worth — a congregation that adopted the elementary school two years earlier — to launch Parent University, a 13-week curriculum that teaches parents 40 developmental assets to help their children succeed.

Rafael Berlanga, pastor of Primera Baptist Church in Fort Worth, gives greetings to participants in the Manuel Jara Parent University. (BGCT photo)

Educators, administrators and church leaders from around Fort Worth met recently at Manuel Jara Elementary with a shared goal — to learn about the success of Parent University and receive resources and ideas on how to start similar programs.

Plata and Rafael Berlanga, pastor of Primera Baptist Church, led the meeting and shared the success of the program.

Community partnership

"Parent University was designed to function as a community partnership between schools and community leaders — churches are part of the community," Berlanga said. "Church-school partnerships are a great way for this curriculum, this program, to affect change in our communities, in our families."

Mike Haley, director of Rezilient Kidz, trained participants in Raising Highly Capable Kids, the curriculum used in Parent University. The research-based curriculum provides an interactive guide to engage parents in their children's education.

Haley provides Raising Highly Capable Kids training worldwide now — as far as Kuala Lumpur and South Africa. While the curriculum is not overtly Christian, it was written with a biblical foundation and provides churches and Christian leaders resources to have a positive impact on parents in their community, he said.

"This is an opportunity we have as the faith community to respond to the needs in our community," Haley said.

Gabriel Cortes, director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas' Hispanic Education Initiative, participated in the meeting to help connect administrators with area church leaders who might be interested in partnerships to start new programs. The Hispanic Education Initiative already helped start parent-education programs at Truett Elementary School in Dallas and Rosemont Middle School in Fort Worth.

"This program is about seeing lives transformed, parents transformed," Cortes said. "Texas Baptists are glad to serve and support you as you seek to make an impact on the community around you."

Graduation ceremony

Following the training session, guests were invited to attend the second Parent University graduation, where 41 parents, representing 125 children, were honored for their work in completing the program. Sixteen of the parents graduated from the second level of parenting courses.

Graduates from Parents University stand during the ceremony held at Primera Baptist University in Fort Worth. (BGCT photo)

In a school where 100 percent of the students are on the free- or reduced-cost lunch program, many parents work multiple jobs, and overcoming poverty is a daily struggle. Despite time constraints, Plata found, parents demonstrated dedication to the program because they saw their children's education as important.

Berlanga also found the church partnership through Parent University made a positive impact on the community where he grew up and his church continues to minister.

"I have a vested interest in this community," Berlanga said. "It can't just be one person that makes a change. It takes all of us working together."

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