All Our Children Explores, Learns, and Grows with National Conference
It’s hard to believe that it has been more than a month since the All Our Children National Conference. AOC organizers spent the months leading up to the conference reaching out to new and existing partners in preparation for our meeting in Baltimore. Now that it’s past, we are so grateful for the hard-working, creative, and inspired individuals and groups who joined us and helped the network make great steps into an exciting future.
Participants arrived at Pearlstone Conference Center on Tuesday, May 27. Pearlstone is a non-profit, Jewish retreat and sustainable education center. The center served as a scenic backdrop to our convening and work.
The conference opened with remarks and a personal story from All Our Children Founder and Network Coordinator, Lallie Lloyd. Charlie Emple, an Episcopal Service Corps member and organizer with St. Stephen’s Youth Programs and B-PEACE for Jorge also shared his findings about the individuals across the country engaged in this work and how we have and can grow our reach.
….school is a place where the entire society’s vision of its future gets put into concrete local terms.
So the second way in which churches can play an important role is by being part of the community that participates in the “act of community imagination,” and by asserting a value-added to that educational project (I would say exactly the same thing about many other kinds of partners – artists, community groups, civic-minded businesses).
The relationship between churches and schools that you are inventing, once developed, refined, and gone viral, could be an essential part of that rejuvenation and change.
Partners awoke to a humid and busy day ahead of them, filled with a Justice Tour of Baltimore, a school site visit, Eucharist with the Bishop of Maryland, and much more.
BUILD Baltimore–a community organizing group with a strong presence in multiple Baltimore neighborhoods–hosted us on a Justice Tour of the city. Leaders Gwen Brown and Sherrell Savage shared insight into the history of Baltimore, with particular attention to how segregation and racist urban policies have left a detrimental mark on Baltimore neighborhoods, families, and schools. We heard stories and saw for ourselves the marked differences between affluent, white neighborhoods just blocks away from economically depressed, historically black neighborhoods. We also heard stories of the incredible work BUILD has done with churches and community groups to uplift and improve the lives of Baltimoreans; stories like the one Gwen Brown told about her campaign to the zoning board to build a community supermarket in a neighborhood miles away from any grocery store.
Following the drive through the city, Hal Hayek and members of the Cathedral of the Incarnation joined school administrators from Waverly Elementary and Middle School to talk about community efforts to a raise $1 billion to build their new school building. Waverly is an inner city school serving a predominantly lower income, minority neighborhood, and against expectations of a neighborhood with these demographics, the building is arguably the best in the city. Administrators reiterated that young people from low income neighborhoods should not be denied great resources because of their geography or income–that the school building, with its green roofing, plentiful natural lighting, updated technology, and ample space for arts classes and recess isn’t a privilege–it is a right that the city owes its children. We were in awe of the hard work that went into providing such a learning space for the students at Waverly and greatly enjoyed touring the building.
Our local hosts, the Cathedral of the Incarnation, served as the site for conference activities for the afternoon. At a beautiful celebration of Eucharist, all conference participants were invited to stand with the Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton as he broke bread in honor of our work. Eucharist was followed by lunch and more remarks by Bishop Sutton, who regaled a rapt crowd with poignant and humorous stories about faith, love, and action in the context of the work we do.
We also heard from writer Antero Pietila, whose study of federal housing regulations and racial segregation has served as a historical and contextual resource for the Baltimore team.
Following lunch, the group split up to work on a facilitated, experiential learning exercise about social justice. Prepared by Meg McDermott, Jennie Msall, and Liz Steinhauser of St. Stephens Youth Programs, participants got to experience a simulation of school resource inequality, which at one point involved many of our conference goers pretending to be children, all squished into one tiny classroom with even tinier chairs!
The activity groups were buzzing with conversation, discussion and debate as facilitators had them thinking about the myriad root causes of school inequality, how we talk about under-performing schools, and the differences between charity and justice.
There was lots of napping on the buses on the way home from the conference center as we ended a long day of activities before dinner. Following another delicious kosher meal, participants were able to select from 5 different breakout sessions. Favorites included Melodie Woerman’s “Sharing Your Story,” a network and marketing info session, and “$1 Billion for School Building” with the impressive Jimmy Stewart, a young community organizer and education activist from Baltimore.
The humidity broke and unfortunately a rainy evening cancelled our planned bonfire. But the Pearlstone chefs baked us up some delicious indoor s’mores and we all enjoyed a sweet and sticky snack before heading to bed before our final day.
Conference organizers were up late the night prior to our closing session adapting our concluding activities to match learnings from the days previous. On Thursday morning, the network gathered together and participants volunteered to speak about their partnerships in a moderated story-share and Q&A session. Conference goers were able to learn from the experiences of others and pose their own questions to the group in order to help shape future visions for their own partnerships.
In addition to thinking about individual futures, we together brainstormed the way forward for All Our Children as a whole. Liz Steinhauser drew on her years as a community organizer to listen and gather shared experiences of each partnership, rally the group to devise a shared purpose, and then guided us to democratically agree on some of our most pressing issues.All present voted and decided that three action groups should be formed to address three key actions for the future of All Our Children:
- Resources and Tools: It was agreed that the individual organizations can draw strength from the network, particularly for the resources and tools we can provide each other. Whether that be pre-fab curriculum, print or online resources, or network building ideas and tools–we can help each other grow and expand. Many conference participants offered to help expand this part of All Our Children’s offerings.
- Storytelling & Narrative: Many folks agreed that the most compelling part of participating in the All Our Children Conference was the opportunity we had to share and hear each others’ individual stories. Many agreed that it should be a primary goal of the network to make individual stories and the story of the greater network more well-represented, creative, and accessible.
- General Convention and Diocesan Level Work: A large part of our concluding discussions focused on how we could get the message and mission of All Our Children into the hearts and minds of bishops, deans, and diocesan-level staff. Many seasoned church activists had suggestions and strategies for presenting at General Convention and advocating for public education with church officials.
Following this session, conference goers departed for home after a long and hard-working three days. Our time in Baltimore was not only meaningful and productive, but a fun and exciting opportunity to spend dedicated time in the company in others who believe so strongly in church-school partnerships. As we move into the next stage in network development, we hope to apply our renewed energy to progress on our named goals, and see increased contributions from new and old members of All Our Children.
A huge thanks to network members who traveled many miles–from as far away as California, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota and Illinois–to join us at this important moment for All Our Children. Stay tuned to see what’s next for the new and expanded network in the coming months.