- Center for Urban Education Ministries
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Center for Urban Education Ministries Supports Families by Re-imagining Education for the 21st Century
If you provide a child with an education, you can help lift that child out of the cycle of poverty. Providing a solid education, then, becomes an integral part of addressing the health and human service needs of a community, says Rick Herman, President of Wheat Ridge Ministries. Many Lutheran schools, particularly those in urban communities, face declining enrollment in a challenging economy. Wheat Ridge is engaged in a bold initiative to help support new models that can help reinvent Lutheran urban education in the 21st century.
The Center for Urban Education Ministries, an initiative of Wheat Ridge Ministries, pursues the Wheat Ridge mission of seeding new ministries of health and hope by heightening awareness of urban Christian education, identifying alternative educational models to help Lutheran schools succeed, and providing start-up support for new and innovative efforts. The Center’s early activities have included hosting educational summits and lectures nationwide and abroad to bring together educators to share best practices. The summits focus on those schools that have strong business models, a high-quality academic curriculum, inspired leaders and a willingness to test innovative ideas to address the unique needs of a community.
The Center’s executive director, Marlene Lund, is enthusiastic about the future of Lutheran education. “With inspired leadership, with a clear and compelling vision, with strong structures and dedication to vocation and service to God, there most certainly is hope for Lutheran schools in the city,” says Lund, who has devoted her entire career to Lutheran urban education and is a past recipient of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Distinguished Principal Award.
Lund notes that Wheat Ridge has long helped seed innovative educational programs by providing grants to urban Lutheran schools, with very successful results. One example is Holy Family School, which originally operated in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green Housing Project. As that neighborhood became gentrified, the school relocated to the Lawndale neighborhood to continue to serve low-income families. Several of its innovative education programs received start-up funding from Wheat Ridge. Holy Family not only instills leadership in its students and the motivation to go on to college, but it provides a safe place for children living in a community plagued with gang violence. Tuition covers one-fourth of the school’s operating expenses. A combination of philanthropy and programs supported by government funding provides additional resources for before- and after-school programming.
In Milwaukee, three Lutheran HOPE Schools provide a top-quality education to children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Supported with a grant from Wheat Ridge, the HOPE Schools – two grade schools and a high school – strive to provide inner-city students a Christian education with an academically-rigorous curriculum in a safe, supportive environment. Enrollment at the two elementary schools has grown by about 30 percent each year for the past four years. Many students perform below average academically when they first arrive but within a few years, they show a marked increase in academic performance.
Also in Milwaukee, Wheat Ridge’s support of St. Marcus Lutheran Church and School has helped the school’s College Prep Program to develop after-school programs and tutoring for low-income middle school students. It has engaged many community-based organizations and volunteers to help expand the vision and hope of young people, particularly African Americans, in the area. The percentage of St. Marcus alumni admitted to a four-year college has skyrocketed. Fifteen percent of graduating seniors were admitted to college in 2005. In 2007, that figure rose to 90 percent.
Lund says that it is not only about how to create a successful school, but also about integrating the school with the economic development and economic security of the community. “The viability of a neighborhood is intertwined with the quality of education in the local schools. The church and schools need to be at the forefront of this effort. Together, they bring hope to communities that are struggling,” she says. “Lutheran schools must seek to promote change and growth in the community, not in individual congregations. It is extremely difficult for one congregation to sustain a school. There is great impact when we collaborate with other congregations. Lutheran schools must focus outward toward the community. They must invite the community in.”
Wheat Ridge’s Rick Herman is appreciative of the support of donors who share its commitment to this unique ministry. “Parents seek to have their children in a safe, caring environment. That is a quality that most good urban schools are known for. That is a health issue,” he says. “Education brings health and hope together which, in turn, has the capacity to transform lives.”
The Center for Urban Education Ministries is working diligently to bring hope to urban areas across the nation where the presence of strong Lutheran schools and churches has dwindled. By identifying and sharing successful models of urban Lutheran schools, the Center aims to encourage and assist leaders so that Lutheran education continues to be a wonderful way to help children and families in our cities know and experience God’s love in the 21st century. For more information, please visit the Center for Urban Education Ministries’ website at www.wheatridge.org/cuem.