Florida United Methodist Women Call Summit on Public Education
by YVETTE MOORE*
More than 60 lay and clergy leaders in Florida Conference examined challenges facing public-school students in their state during a statewide public-education summit convened by United Methodist Women. Participants strategized on how to improve public education in Florida.
Florida Conference’s Committee on Global Mission and Justice and Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty collaborated with United Methodist Women to plan the “For Love of Florida’s Children” public-education summit.
“We convened the summit because of the great needs and vast challenges facing Florida’s children,” said Pam Davis, mission coordinator for social action for Florida Conference United Methodist Women. Ms. Davis, a National Board certified teacher, participated in the 2005 Public Education Summit of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
“With few exceptions, funding of most children’s services has not received a realistic rate increase in the last 12 years,” Ms. Davis said. “Funds allocated are not keeping up with Florida’s growing population.”
Summit planners hope to generate church action and advocacy on public education by replicating the summit in each of the conference’s nine districts in 2007, Ms. Davis said. Each district had at least six representatives at the event. These participants agreed to help facilitate similar actions in their districts.
The summit began with a welcome from conference United Methodist Women President Paulette Monroe, a devotional using The Prayer Calendar, and a meditation on 1 John 3:18 – Let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
“The day was set up like a school day, which included a music-enrichment class, physical education, a current-events graffiti board, reading and a pop quiz,” Ms. Davis said.
Keynote speaker Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the Florida Episcopal Area, served as principal for the day. Participants heard from a panel of speakers featuring the Rev. Lawrence Rankin of the conference Global Mission and Justice Committee and United Methodist Women members, including Ms. Davis; Eugenia Whitehead, a participant in the Women’s Division’s 2005 Public Education Summit; Mary Melvin, an educator and former director of the Women’s Division; and Judith Pierre-Okerson, an educator and former dean of the Florida Conference School of Christian Mission.
Other panelists included Andrea Pepper, a Palm Beach County school administrator; Ginny Roebuck, an elementary-school educator; Mary Jane Trimble, a retired high-school teacher; and Stephanie Thompson, a student at Bethune-Cookman College.
Issues addressed by the speakers included Florida’s graduation rates; the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, mandatory for graduation; and the impact of the No Child Left Behind federal law. Panelists also talked about how to mentor students and be effective advocates for them.
Participants shared insights with one another through a snowball fight – they wrote what they had learned on pieces of paper, balled them up and through them at other participants.
“We took our written exams, wadded then up and threw them like snowballs to friends,” Ms. Davis said. “We read them, shared what was written, then threw them to other people.”
Summit planners gathered data from participants regarding their ongoing mentoring and experiences in public education. They urged participants to bring their concerns about public education to the legislative advocacy day at the state capitol in Tallahasee this month.
*Yvette Moore is an executive secretary for communications with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.