Julie Baker-Finck Keynote Address and Q&A

Date Posted: 6/7/2018

By: Shari Gragg
In her keynote address to the Texas Annual Conference, Julie Baker-Finck, President of the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation, challenged the Conference with the great needs of Texas children along with clear direction on how to best help them.
According to Baker-Finck, Texas is consistently ranked one of nation’s worst states for children. One in four children live in poverty. Sixty percent of Texas students receive free or reduced fee lunches. The great news, Baker-Finck asserts is that the devastating impact of childhood poverty can be minimized or negated entirely if those children receive the support they need. “There is no smarter investment in our resources than helping children learn to read,” said Baker-Finck.
Ways Churches Can Help:

  1.  Increase access to books in the home. Upwards of 61 percent of low income children are not book owners. The number of books in a home is a better indicator of a child's success than parental income.
  2. Provide volunteer-based reading mentoring programs.
  3. Make Summer count with enrichment programs for kids.
  4. Strengthen and support our early childcare system.
  5. Educate and equip parents as their children’s first teachers

We sat down with Baker-Finck for a post-Conference interview in which she provided a wealth of information for churches as we, as a Conference, invest in Bishop Scott Jones’s “We Love All God’s Children” initiative.
Q: How can churches make sure all young children have access to better childcare?
A: One way is to advocate for increased quality in standards. There are more than 1,000 licensed childcare providers in the state of Texas, but the quality of that care ranges significantly. Many of them are very low in quality.
A second option is to increase the number of early childhood spaces available. Churches already involved in early childhood care could increase the number of children they are able to serve, and consider how to provide scholarships for low-income families who can’t afford quality childcare.
Q: How can we help kids who have missed that valuable early childhood window catch up?
A: Children who come in behind are not a lost cause. What it really requires is more time and more resources. We have to create safety nets to help kids accelerate. What we want to do is give a child more than one year of learning over the course of one year's instruction. We do this through:
  1. After school programs
  2. Spending more time working on reading at home.
  3. Interventions such as one-on-one reading and mentoring.
These are all things churches can do through volunteers. There is clear evidence that when kids get the support they need, they can catch up.
Q: When it comes to impact over the summer, what are some of your favorite ideas?
  1. Summer based programing- HYPE Freedom School. This is a ten-week summer program that utilizes a curriculum created by the Children's Defense Fund. The program is hosted in churches in two locations, and the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation provides financial support. It is a full-day program in which lunch is provided through the city and the school district. Kids not only mitigate the summer learning slide but grow academically.
  1.  Camp Adventure- This two-week program was established by the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation four years ago in partnership with the Houston Area Urban League and the Children's Museum. We hold the camp twice during the summer, once in a low-income school in the Third Ward and once in the Fifth Ward. It is very STEM oriented and hands on. We bring in partners like the Children's Museum and the Houston Symphony, but churches don't have to have access to these non-profits. Churches most likely have very skilled people within the laity to engage kids. Some programs are half-day, but for low-income families it is really more feasible to have full-day programs.
  1. When School Starts Back…Keep Kids in School- One of the root causes of low literacy in school-age children is chronic absences. One thing churches can do is help figure out why kids are missing school. Is it a lack of reliable transportation? Is the child with a grandparent who can't take them to school? Churches can establish a partnership with a local school in which they are ambassadors to these families. They can come to the school, see who is absent, and give those families a call to find out how they can help. If it is a transportation problem, perhaps the church van can go pick them up.

If it is a high school kid, he or she might feel they have to go to work instead of school, or perhaps they are being bullied, or tired, or need a clean uniform. Churches can have a conversation and see how they can help.
Q: We know that Hispanic families are deeply concerned about their children's education. Pew Research Center published results of a recent survey that revealed immigration is not the number one issue for US Hispanics; They are most concerned about their children's education.  Some of these families struggle to fully participate in their children's education because of language barriers. How can our churches come alongside these parents and support them in helping their kids learn to read?
A. We have found that many of the mothers in these homes want to learn English not to advance their own careers, but to help their children with their homework. One way churches can help is to provide an ESL course at your church for those families.
Also, there are some great family literacy programs that allow the parents to learn alongside the child. It is a two-for-one impact. This is why Mrs. Bush chose family literacy. She saw the value of having that experience and bond that is shared between a parent and child as they read together.