The School Just Up the Hill

Featured Partner: St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, NC
“The School Just Up the Hill”

For this installment of Featured Partners, I’m excited to share some of my conversation with Quisha Mallette, the coordinator of Saint Ambrose’s One-Church One-School partnership with the Fuller Elementary School in Raleigh, NC. For many, the opportunity to hear various stories of partners each in their unique stages of development was a highlight of the All Our Children conference. Quisha was the sole representative for Saint Ambrose at the conference, but I think I can speak for many in saying that the experiences she shared as the coordinator of a first-year partnership were incredibly valuable to a wider audience looking for advice, commonality and hope.

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When asked how Saint Ambrose chose to partner with the Fuller Elementary, Quisha remarked, “It’s a school just up the hill from our church.” The partnership between the two institutions began when the rector, Jemonde Taylor–interested in making community outreach a stronger focus for their parish–approached Ms. Mallette to lead the effort after her work with the church’s girl scout troop. Quisha described the next steps “all happening very fast.” By mid-April the same year, church staff were in talks with the Fuller administration about working with the school during its upcoming Vacation Bible School before starting with full-scale projects in the fall.

One of the unique things about the Saint Ambrose approach in these early stages is the vast number of projects they piloted in their first year. Parishioners undertook Thanksgiving and Christmas drives for clothing, food, and gift cards for students and families. Others started a walking club at the school. One dedicated volunteer mentored students and tutored in the classroom. The diversity of these projects helped build energy for the partnership and attract a diverse number of volunteers to the work. “Certain projects that the teens were more interested in–like collecting canned goods or a playground clean up–helped them stay connected and enthusiastic, whereas some of the other projects attracted folks with time during the day or those who could only make a small commitment,” Quisha said.

It is somewhat remarkable for a first-year partnership to accomplish so much. But Quisha explains that the communication between the church and the school was essential to moving forward. She and the Rev. Taylor were clear in asking the Fuller’s principal what the school wanted out of the partnership, thereby the projects Saint Ambrose initiated were able to better address a direct need.

But enthusiasm had to come from both ends. For example, while the rector preached the word of meaningful partnership from the pulpit, Fuller’s principal in turn spoke at the church about the way parishioners could address the needs of and work with local students. From their earliest meetings to congregation wide presentations, “We really talked a lot about our vision, what we wanted to see happen in the school and the church over time.” Quisha believes that the partnership would not have retained its upstart energy had parishioners not felt like this was deeply important to spiritual formation and that they were a felt presence in the school. (Thank you notes sent home by Fuller students helped too–and allowed volunteers to hear and see their work!)

Continuing the Up Hill Journey

When asked about the future of their One-Church One-School program, Quisha remarked, “We had a lot of success this year, and the All Our Children conference really helped shape the dialogue for our next year.”  She continued to say sustaining and building the existing energy without volunteer burnout will be a big focus of their future efforts. While the church will continue with its most popular, one-time project, their “Angel Tree” for Fuller students, Quisha also wants to build the partnership to make a more direct impact on the social well-being of the students. She wants One-Church One-School to have a long term impact, and believes that increasing the number of one-on-one mentors will help sustain relationships with the school and contribute to One-Church One-School as a social justice initiative. By shifting the focus to social justice, church members can provide the structure to empower and create a school community that is driven by members within.

“My vision is really for us to start becoming more facilitators of a well-run machine–where students, families and teachers themselves are finding ways to create platforms for student learning and engagement.”

As the fall quickly approaches, we look forward to hearing more from this exciting new partnership, and all the unique challenges and success that their second year will bring.