Detroit — Detroit’s public school district kicked off an initiative on Thursday to expand its faith-based council, which is a long-running partnership between religious institutions and schools across the city.
Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, said the district needs help — specifically in areas of academic support; basic needs, such as clothes and food; volunteers for field trips and coaches and personal development for students and parents.
“Organizations have to admit when there are gaps, when there are holes,” Vitti said. “As an organization, DPSCD cannot lift our children up to academic and civic potential by themselves. We need help in that work.”
Vitti said when Detroit was at its peak, the schools and the faith-based community worked together as a team to lift children up. The time has come, Vitti said, to scale and make the work consistent for all 106 DPSCD schools. Between 25 to 30 percent of schools have or had an existing faith-based partner, he said.
“So I’m talking about developing a stronger safety net to ensure what students are not receiving at home, what students are not receiving at school can be addressed in the faith-based community,” Vitti said.
“Please everyone think about where you are at in serving children, and how you can scale that and go deeper in that work. We have to start thinking about scale in Detroit. It’s not about five children. ... It’s about 50,000 students in DPSCD.”
Members of faith-based groups across the city received a form explaining how individuals can help the district, from mentoring and volunteering to monitoring outside bus stops and inside locker rooms.
Many of the speakers invoked passages from the Bible and quoted scripture at the event which was attended predominately by Christian-based organization.
School board vice chair Angelique N. Peterson Mayberry said she knows so many people are already volunteering in the community to support the children of DPSCD, but that work is being done in pockets.
“We want it in every one of our schools,” Peterson-Mayberry said. “No matter what school you go to you should have the same opportunities as other children at other schools in our district.,” she said.
Lonnie Peek, assistant pastor at Greater Christ Baptist Church, said his congregation has a partnership with the UAW and formed the One Church One School organization to help out schools in Detroit. Together, they held teacher appreciation days, beautification events and welcome events for students.
“People have got to understand that the two cornerstone institutions in Detroit are the church and the school. You can talk about the separation of church and school, but look what you get when you get separation. We are talking about bringing back together the individuals from the churches and work with the schools,” Peek said.
Principal Shannon Lawson said her school has had a partnership with New Prospect Baptist Church for the last 11 years which has provided food, tutoring, mentoring and other services for students and families at Pasteur Elementary School.
“It just gives you more strength. Sometimes, you feel like you’ve done all you can do and then you have another layer to go to,” Lawson said.
The call for help went out to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, chapel and parishes.
Rabbi Ariana Silverman with the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in downtown Detroit attended Thursday’s announcement and said she does not know yet what role her congregation could play in the initiative but plans to figure that out once she meets with Vitti in person.
“It’s challenging as the clergy person of a minority religion to figure out what our role is in a faith-based program. In part, because we are such a minority,” Silverman said. “I want to see what we can do in partnership to get this new, growing demographic in the city to feel linked into the district’s goals and be part of them.”