By Rick Jones
For more than 50 years, the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church has helped local children succeed in school through its own in-house tutoring program. But the Pennsylvania church traces its interest in education back to the late 1800’s.
Elder Margaret Bailey Speer is credited with launching the current tutoring program after approaching the Session with the idea in 1965. Speer had served on the staff of the Western Languages Department as well as dean at Yenching University in Beijing. In 1941, when the U.S. entered World War II, she was sent to an internment camp where she provided educational activities for children and adults.
Upon her return to the U.S. in 1943, she became headmistress of a private school. Throughout her career, Speer became a champion for human rights and improved access to education.
Cackie Rogers was one of the students inspired by Margaret Speer. She went on to become director of the church’s tutoring program.
“In 1967 I heard the message of Margaret Bailey Speer. The program had already been established and I volunteered to be a tutor in 1972,” she said. “In 2009, my daughter became a tutor and today, my son is a group leader. It’s become a part of our family and a part of the fabric of the Bryn Mawr congregation.”
Two nights a week, students from ten high schools are matched with students from the William Dick Elementary School. Tutors include members of the congregation and people from the larger community. A school family resource staff member identifies interested students and parents, and church leaders connect and introduce them to the program.
“It’s a very popular, proven program. Year after year, high school students pass the word to other students saying it’s a great way to provide service to the community,” added Rogers. “The parents also see the positive benefits for their children.”
The program also includes activities such as arts, music, yoga and food, but reading is the hallmark of the program. Although it originally started with tutors going to the school, the church now arranges transportation for students to come to the church where a meal is provided by the congregation’s Hunger Committee and volunteers.
The “Educate a Child, Transform the World” campaign is a joint effort of Presbyterian World Mission and Compassion, Peace and Justice. By joining with its partners throughout the US and the world, the PC(USA) has set a goal of providing quality education for 1 million children by the year 2020.
For more information on the national component of the Educate a Child initiative, click here. Donate to the national campaign to help provide early childhood education and decrease dropout rates.
For information on the international component, click here. Donate to the international campaign to address the shortage of well-trained teachers and to provide infrastructure, learning resources, access, safety and security at schools.
All pictures courtesy of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.
Read more stories from congregations!
Tell us your story!
Do you have a story to share? Contact staff team convener Alonzo Johnson (Alonzo.Johnson@pcusa.org) and tell us how your church is involved in education and advocacy for the children in your community.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.