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  • Sacred Conversations 2016

Maurine Magliocco: Education Task Force at work

Before I retired as an English professor from Western Illinois University, I occasionally taught a required course called “Group Diversity.”

Once, early in the semester, the students chose to self-segregate, with all the White students on one side of the room and all the Black students on the other. When I asked the class if anyone had noticed anything unusual about the seating pattern, most students avoided eye contact, but one said, “We shouldn’t be talking about this because it makes people feel uncomfortable.”

After a couple of weeks working in mixed racial groups, however, the students could talk with ease and were very supportive of each other.

We at the Faith Coalition for the Common Good are a diverse group working in common cause so that all students can succeed. For the last three years, our Education Task Force has been meeting at Union Baptist Church to address the “Achievement / Opportunity Gap.” After a “Listening Session” with students, parents and teachers, we identified “communication” as a major problem both with and within the school district.

We subsequently joined with the school district to create a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on its website and to make the “Student and Family Handbook” more readable. Our truancy and attendance committees now meet regularly with the school district’s, and together we have interviewed students and administrators from various schools to learn what works best.

Because attendance is fundamental to student success, Faith Coalition began our campaign called “In School & On Time: Your Community Cares” as an effort to create a “culture of collaboration” throughout Springfield whereby businesses, non-profits and individuals can encourage attendance through the funding of such things as yard signs, buttons, banners, pencils, refrigerator magnets and billboards or by providing incentives and rewards for good attendance.

This month and last January the school district joined with us in funding bus signs with our message and with pictures of our students. Thanks to Pepsi, we have banners in all the middle and high schools, and thanks to businesses like Banggers Hair Studio, we have a sign in a prominent location. We are currently creating flyers for posting in grocery stores, schools and other prominent locations which will clearly define the differences between excused and unexcused absences.

When we first began working jointly with the school district on attendance, we met many of the truancy interventionists who were doing the hard work of calling parents, going to homes, providing rides and helping children get the clothes and food they needed in order to get to school and be successful.

Unfortunately, these crucial professionals lost their jobs in one of the recent budget cuts, and attendance has suffered. Absences not only cause the district to lose money needed to educate all our students, but they also lead to poor performance and contribute to our very low, four-year graduation rate (64.51 percent in 2013).

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