Raising Expectations; An initiative seeks faith community’s input on education reform
By JESSICA R. KEY
Nicole Baker Fulgham grew up in Detroit, which like many cities, had a ﬂ awed education system. Fortunately her working-class parents were able to navigate the system so that she could attend a high-achieving high school.
"Our neighborhood high school was different. I had friends who were just as smart as me, but they weren’t getting the same access (to quality education) or messages about college," said Fulgham.
This eye-opening realization about educational disparities stuck with Fulgham throughout her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan. Also during that time, her belief in Christ grew. She concluded that her faith as well as her passion for righting educational ills were connected and decided to teach public school in Compton, Calif., through the "Teach for America" (TFA) program.
TFA is a national teacher corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach and to effect
change in under-resourced urban and rural public schools.
There she discovered a vast majority of her ﬁ fth grade class had ﬁrst grade math and reading levels and several kids were illiterate. Fulgham saw students’ potential to
achieve and worked with parents and people in the community to set up after school enrichment sessions. By the end of the year, there was a considerable change among students’ grades and abilities.
"(Helping students improve through my work at TFA) proved to me this problem is solvable," said Fulgham, who stayed in California to complete her master’s and doctorate degrees in education at the University of California, Los Angeles.
After her time in California, Fulgham moved to Washington, D.C., but continued to come back to her beliefs in combining faith and educational justice. She also realized that despite the vast resources in the U.S., people have allowed education to decline. Those thoughts led her to create The Expectations Project.
"I saw lots of movements with faith communities that were engaging in climate change or supporting children in poverty in Africa and all of these wonderful causes, but I didn’t see a broader movement around people of faith saying ‘educational inequity in America’s public schools is a travesty.’ Clearly our God, or whatever god you serve, wouldn’t stand for this, so what are we going to do about it," asked Fulgham. "I can’t think of a social justice movement in this country that wasn’t deeply connected to communities of faith. It’s time for them to be involved."
The Expectations Project partners with faith-based individuals, leaders, congregations and organizations to develop local and national campaigns that help enact transformational change for lowincome public schools. They serve as conveners, thought partners and strategists who help identify the most inﬂuential plan of action.
So that the faith community is fully understanding about the scope of educational problems and the achievement gap, The Expectations Project develops resources to educate faith-based communities. They also build awareness on the possibilities of academic achievement and proven solutions already in place.
Furthermore, the project equips and supports faith community partners by developing media
campaigns, inﬂ uencing local and national decision-makers and mobilizing people of faith to take action on key education issues.
"In my reading of the Bible, it’s clear. There are thousands of messages of poverty and justice and in this world. We have a responsibility," said Fulgham. "We are raising the expectation that all kids can achieve."
People should note that the project isn’t about bringing religion into schools, but getting the faith community involved in the ight for education reform.
Fulgham’s initiative was so inspiring, it caught the attention of The Mind Trust, a non proit organization working to inspire innovative education reform.
Fulgham’s idea helped her become the seventh Education Entrepreneur Fellow with The Mind Trust.
"We’re extremely enthusiastic about The Expectations Project," said David Harris, founder and CEO of The Mind Trust. "If we’re going to drive education reform ahead we need to find ways to get more people and different perspectives engaged in this work and faith leaders have a unique understanding of the consequences of our failure to educate kids."
During the two-year fellowship, The Mind Trust provides its Education Entrepreneur Fellows with a $90,000 annual salary plus a $20,000 startup stipend. In addition, The Mind Trust supports fellows as they launch their ventures in Indianapolis.
Fulgham has already begun gathering Indianapolis clergy and faith based organizations; building
relationships; and understanding the initiatives already happening.
Rev. Dr. Clarence Moore, pastor of Northside New Era church is enthusiastic about The Expectations Project and encourages other clergy to get involved.
"Pastors must get involved. Our inluence is greatly needed. A great professor once taught me, ‘Preaching may bring people out of the world but education will get the world out of people,’" said Moore.
In addition to the project’s platform of building awareness, taking action on closing the achievement gap and building a cohort of people who are willing to push for longterm systemic change, Fulgham has a signficant list of issues she wants to tackle in Indianapolis. With the help of clergy, she has set aggressive benchmarks to address issues such as expanding early childhood education, raising academic support by churches, increase I-READ 3 test success, and decrease high school waiver diplomas.
Fulgham doesn’t want The Expectations Project to be "all talk" and plans to get the project moving within the next six months.
The Indianapolis arm of The Expectation Project is still in the initial stages but in the meantime, residents and those in the faith community can visit The Expectations Project’s website and sign up for their newsletter, which will recommend effective resources that help faith communities do everything from support local public schools with their time and resources, learn about effective tutoring programs in their local
community or explore how to become a public school teacher.