My mother was the youngest of seven children: 6 girls and 1 boy. She grew up working on my grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania in a conservative Anabaptist community. Most of my aunts wore plain clothes and small caps called coverings until the sixties. I imagine that some of the neighbors considered my grandparents unlucky to have mostly girls to work the farm but apparently my grandfather had a different future in mind for them. As my mother tells it, he was adamant that all of his daughters would get an education, even though many people in their community thought this was wasteful at the time and he himself had stopped going to school after 8th grade. But all of my aunts went to college–my own mother got her Master’s degree–and every one of them worked outside the home to help support their families as teachers, nurses, and office workers.
Worldwide it is estimated that some 93 million children, most of them girls, are still denied access to a basic education. Educating a girl dramatically reduces the chance her own child will die before age five, and it improves her chances of being able to support herself and have a say in her own welfare and in society.
The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) launched a churchwide initiative called Educate a Child, Transform the World calling on Presbyterians to work with partners in the U.S. and worldwide to improve the quality of education for 1 million children by 2020. This initiative builds on the Presbyterian history of educational mission and advocacy and support for access to public education.
Nationally access to quality public education is a problem that is, for better or worse, more equally distributed between boys and girls. The Educate a Child, Transform the World initiative centers on strengthening early childhood education and reducing the dropout rate of adolescents. In Greater New Haven, disparity in access to quality education is evident. Greater New Haven’s preschool enrollment is high – 59% versus 43% nationally – but varies by town and neighborhood. The enrollment rate ranges from 47% in low-income New Haven neighborhoods to 70% in outer ring suburbs and towns. Cost is a major factor in the disparity. Disparities between students of color and white students appear in early grades and persist into high school. Students of color in Greater New Haven are more than twice as likely to be chronically absent from school as white students. On standardized reading and math tests in 2015, only one third of students of color in the region received proficient scores as compared to 64% of white students.
So today, in gratitude to my mother for supporting me in every educational opportunity I could possibly dream up for myself and as part of our larger churchwide initiative, I encourage you to learn about and perhaps get involved with one or more of the local groups that are working to reduce educational disparity in New Haven. We heard a few weeks ago about after school tutoring for IRIS. There is also New Haven Reads, which provides after-school tutoring, educational family support, and a community book bank, New Haven Promise, which provides free tuition to Connecticut public colleges and universities for qualifying New Haven graduates, and many others.