“Here,” said Cassie*, handing me a piece of candy from her hand-decorated Valentine’s Day bag.

“Thanks, Cassie. That’s so kind of you,” I whispered to her across the table, trying not to interrupt the movie. Within one minute, I felt a little hand tapping my arm.

“What’s up?” I asked eight-year-old Michael*. He held up a carefully folded napkin holding a heart-shaped cookie. “Thanks buddy!” He gave me a satisfied nod and sat back down.

Volunteers come from the local community

As movie time progressed, I received valentine after valentine from my new little friends. Since moving into this Oklahoma City neighborhood, I’ve hung out with very few children, and now I was sitting in the middle of a group of local elementary schoolers jabbering and bouncing in their chairs as Tré, leader of the Britton Church after-school tutoring program, lead the group through a discussion about the movie we watched.

Each child spends time working though their homework with a tutor

I relished all of the shared snacks and funny comments from the group—the kind of honesty, curiosity and kindness you’d expect from a regular group of elementary school kids. But this group isn’t just a happy-go-lucky group of young scholars. Growing up in this neighborhood means many of them face struggles beyond their years.

Statistically speaking, half of them won’t graduate high school.

Obstacles

Kids in the 73114 zip code are more likely to be arrested than graduate high school. How is it possible that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world so many capable, sharp young people fall through the cracks?

During my time here, I’ve learned that the local schools can only offer so much. Teachers are stretched thin. Discipline problems and absenteeism slow progress. Resources are in short supply—very few books are available for students to take home and study from.

Britton Church tutors students from elementary school to high school

Home itself can exhaust a young pupil even more. In the area surrounding Britton Christian Church, biological fathers are not in the picture for over 90% of families. Many kids here live with extended family members, some live in homes where illegal activity goes on and others come home to empty houses because their parent works long hours.

On top of that, the neighborhood culture does not always promote excelling in school. As Tré explains it, some of the non-white students feel that doing well in school means they’re ‘acting white,’ or trying to be something they’re not.

Basically, capable students + under resourced school x draining home life ÷ by peer pressure yields…well, a 50% high school dropout rate.

But through the love and determination of Tré and the people of Britton Church, some of these kids have fewer factors to face. Now, they can focus on facing other pressing issues—like geometry.

Students have time to study and play during their time at the church

Answering the Call

By the end of snack time, a group of volunteer tutors from the community waited in the hallway to meet with their students. Some of the volunteers have been coming to help out for years, and others just began. The tutoring program has undergone many transformations since its beginning. People like the staff of Mustard Seed Development helped form the program to address the educational deficit in the 73114 area code, and now Britton Christian Church operates the program as a part of their mission to show God’s love to their neighbors.

Tutoring takes place every Tuesday and Thursday—two hours are dedicated to the younger school children, another two hours (including dinner) are dedicated to the middle school and high school students and then an ACT prep course is available for any students preparing for the college entrance exam. Students meet one-on-one with an adult who helps them work through homework and encourages them as they learn.

Tré makes a point of inviting guest speakers who have benefitted from education, and the church organized a trip to Washington D.C. for their high schoolers to honor their achievements. He wants students to understand that education is “cool,” despite the negative stigma.

These older students will travel to DC with Britton Church staff to celebrate their academic achievement

The Missing Resource

“I can identify with what they’re going through,” Tré shared as he cleaned up after the lesson. Having learned first-hand about the “pull of the hood” as a young person, Tré understands the dynamics of this neighborhood. His own life experiences and his compassion for these students have led him here to help give them a chance.

As I watched the tutors patiently walk students through their lessons, I dwelled on how many influencers encouraged me on my educational journey. I’ve been blessed with some great teachers, quiet, safe places to study, books to take home and parents who saved my elementary school art projects…not exactly because they thought I’d be the next Picasso, but because they supported my efforts.

It may seem trivial, but the extra support goes a long way. The tutors at Britton Church celebrate with students as they make strides like working out the surface area of a cylinder, finding Bahrain on a map or defining aristocracy for the first time.

Tre is excited to see these high school students succeed and graduate high school

Community members can play such an important role in educating young people. With millions of children in the U.S. trying to learn from broken institutions while caring for younger siblings and worrying about whether or not they’ll eat dinner, we need to be involved where we can. If we really value education as a basic human right, what are we doing to make it more attainable for young people?

We may be the greatest resource missing in the education system.

The people at Britton Church are starting with their neighbors and showing them that school, education and each child matters, just by sitting next to them while they practice multiplication tables.

*Names have been changed

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Next Steps
    • Get out there and tutor! Call your local elementary, middle or high school and offer your help. Or better yet, could your church be doing something like Britton Christian Church?
    • Think about all of the supporters you’ve had in your education—the fact that you’re able to read this article at all probably means that you’ve had some type of formal schooling. Be a support for kids in your area. Even if you don’t have time to tutor, make a point of asking students what they’re learning about in their classes—be interested!
    • Pray for the work of Mustard Seed, Britton Christian Church and the students of the 73114 area.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

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Comments

  1. Chuck Easton said... 

    Reply

    March 5th, 2012 at 11:20 am  

    “Kids in the 73114 zip code are more likely to be arrested than graduate high school. How is it possible that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world so many capable, sharp young people fall through the cracks?”
    …How is this possible? It’s true in too many zip codes across our country.

    Thanks Laura for sharing how a few people from Britton Church and Mustard Seed are making difference in some young person’s life. I think there is a zip code near me where I might be able to help a kid read and learn. Maybe I can help a kid stay in school and have some success with learning. OK, 46062 here I come.

    • Laura Stump said... 

      Reply

      March 6th, 2012 at 2:23 pm  

      I’m happy to hear that, Chuck! Any student would be lucky to have you as a mentor. It’s amazing how simple and yet how important outside support can be.

  2. Steve said... 

    Reply

    March 5th, 2012 at 4:21 pm  

    I thought the same thing Chuck. What a staggering statistic. I can only imagine the pride and joy of those kids heading to DC.

  3. Skip said... 

    Reply

    March 7th, 2012 at 3:57 pm  

    Great work Laura. It was a pleasure meeting you. Thanks for what you are doing and have done for 73114. This type of journalism is needed and is motivating to those of us who are in the fray and wanting to help more.

    • Laura Stump said... 

      Reply

      March 23rd, 2012 at 6:18 pm  

      Thanks, Skip! It was wonderful meeting you too. Thanks for welcoming me into your community :)

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