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The Continuing Work of Your Common Table: The 'Why'

1/25/2022

Project Transformation gives a glimpse into one of the great needs in our communities.

By Rev. Hal Jones
Director of Connectional Ministries
 
Last Friday morning, my day began with reading these words from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Meditation daily devotional:

“As glimpsed in [Jesus’] parables and practices, the reign of God is a gracious rule of saving love and communion. As a place where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, it sets up a new kind of community where “the least of these” brothers and sisters are included... In this community tyranny is countermanded in the light of God’s self-giving ways; male and female are equal partners, as are Jew and Greek. Justice, peace, and the well-being of all creatures are the goal. If we are not living out the types of relationships that serve this pattern of the truth of the reign of God, then we haven’t got a clue about who God is. Knowing God is impossible unless we enter into a life of love and communion with others.”

Words from the Doctrinal Heritage section of our United Methodist Discipline echo this understanding:

Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.

What's On The Table

Members of your North Georgia Conference Common Table will meet to continue their work, on your behalf, on Friday night, February 25, and then, again, the following day, on Saturday, February 26.

During the Friday night session, a small group of invited guests will be giving brief presentations to Common Table members. Their presentations will offer a glimpse into the depth of needs and struggles so many members of the communities we serve face, live with, and are forced to navigate on a day-to-day basis. There won’t, of course, be nearly enough time in one Friday night to paint the entire picture of all those needs and struggles, let alone the depth of them. The glimpse offered, though, will help shape Saturday’s planning and work.

The outcome of Saturday’s work will be the identification of specific areas of focus for the ministry we do together as a Conference through our connectional system--areas of focus that will help shape and drive specific ministries across North Georgia through the collaboration of the churches, committees, boards and other groups comprising our Conference.

Keeping with the theme of that Friday night, February 25 session of the Common Table, I offer this glimpse of one of those needs and struggles that so many of our brothers and sisters in the communities we serve are forced to navigate each day. The following article was written by Diane Ward, Executive Director of Project Transformation North Georgia:

Literacy and The Work of Project Transformation

By Diane Ward
 
"Diane, I want more families to know about Project Transformation N. GA because kids need it. Without the ability to read, you can't do anything. You can't apply for jobs, you can't graduate high school, and it perpetuates until they end up in prison or worse." Project Transformation Camper Parent, 2021

The camper parent who wrote me this note is referring to what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. While many things contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, reading levels and behavior management are two of the most significant contributing factors. First, I will share why this happens and how it is affecting Georgia students. Second, I'll share what Project Transformation is doing to interrupt the pipeline.

In 2019, 77% of the Georgia students eligible for lunch assistance, 80% of black students, and 73% of Hispanic students were not reading proficiently (on their reading level or above) by the end of third grade.

According to Get Georgia Reading, "The end of third grade marks the critical time when children shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Children who are unable to make this shift face severe barriers to future learning because they can't grasp half of the printed fourth-grade curriculum and beyond, including math and science. As a result, these children fall even further behind.

Children who can't read proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to experience poor health, have discipline problems, become teen parents, and drop out of high school. As adults, they're more likely to spend time in prison, struggle with unemployment, and face shorter life expectancies."
 
These are the significant factors that contribute to children not reading on level:
  • Summer learning loss/COVID learning loss
  • Lack of access to diverse and age-appropriate books in the home
  • Lack of access to affordable preschool education
What helps children read on level or get to a proficient reading level:
  • Summer programs that prevent the summer reading slide
  • Access to books
  • Parent education
  • Positive learning environments: Including social-emotional learning and transformational relationships with adults
  • Access to affordable preschool programs
 At Project Transformation North Georgia (PTNG), we address children's illiteracy in unique and transformative ways. Project Transformation creates opportunities in a community for children, college-age young adults, and churches to come together and build mutual relationships.
 
We live out our mission through the three Cs: children, college students, and churches. All three Cs come together in our collaborative program model, through which college-age young adults implement literacy and social-emotional interventions with children strategically housed in churches. We believe that transformation happens through relationships, and it is in the sacred space between each C that transformation occurs.
 
The impact we made in summer 2021:
  • 92% of kids maintained or improved their reading level - successfully preventing the summer reading slide!
  • 81% of kids felt that Project Transformation helped them enjoy reading.
  • Children and volunteers read 176 books in one-on-one reading time
  • 10,000 children's books we put back into the community over the year
We operate two program sites (Stone Mountain First UMC and North Springs UMC). Camp is structured uniquely to allow churches to build relationships within the community while also creating opportunities for young adults to develop leadership skills and discern their vocational call.

In summer 2021:
  • 100% of our young adults gained knowledge of their gifts and how to use them
  • 89% said they gained knowledge of how their faith is connected to their work
  • One intern said, "I learned how to work with kids with different socioeconomic backgrounds and learning disabilities."
COVID-19 has only exacerbated the need for ministries like ours and has opened up more significant opportunities for churches to make an impact in addressing children's illiteracy. This recent New York Times article says, "Children fell far behind in school during the first year of the pandemic and have not caught up." The article continues to highlight the pressing need for literacy and social-emotional support for children. Children's illiteracy is an urgent matter that needs to be addressed NOW.

Together we can support children and their families in literacy, social-emotional support, positive relationships with adults, and connecting churches with their communities. If you would like to know more about how you can get involved, please reach out to me at ward@ptnorthgeorgia.org.


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