Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Good Neighbor program honors area church and business partners

A local faith community has adopted Spring Branch ISD’s goal to double  the number of district graduates who pursue either technical certification, military training, or a two-year or four-year degree.
Chapelwood United Methodist Church was honored Nov. 5 during the eighth annual Good Neighbor Recognition Program held at the Omni Houston Hotel Westside. Church leaders and volunteers were spotlighted at the annual dinner program for adopting SBISD’s five-year goal, known as Spring Branch T-2-4.
In all, 219 groups and individuals have been named as Good Neighbors for their efforts during the 2012-2013 school year. The Good Neighbor designation is earned by individuals, groups, campuses and organizations that perform three or more activities that support the district, an individual school or the Spring Branch Education Foundation (SBEF). SBISD campuses may also earn the designation by giving back to the community.
At Chapelwood, dozens of volunteers support district programs ranging from Collegiate Challenge mentoring based at Northbrook High School to Students With Amazing Potential (SWAP) programming and meetings at Spring Oaks Middle School.
In addition to honoring Chapelwood’s volunteers, event organizers announced new corporate donations from two energy-related businesses at the dinner. They are:
·       NexenThis area energy firm has donated $35,000 to the district, including $10,000 to support the SBISD Mini-Grant program for teachers in literacy and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas; $10,000 for Spring Woods High School Theatre Arts Department; and $15,000 to fund projects with Stratford High School’s Academy of Science & Engineering.
·       BP America IncThis energy corporation has donated $15,000 to buy two 3D digital printers for Project Lead the Way’s engineering classrooms at Northbrook and Spring Woods high schools; fund additional needs in digital film/photography at the Guthrie Center; and support student competition for Stratford’s Robotics program. In addition, BP will support two Project Lead the Way program scholarships.    
Eight years ago, the Good Neighbor program held it first-ever dinner and gave its designation to 55 groups and individuals. Today, four times as many of the annual designations are issued, and registered SBISD volunteers have increased to 10,000 or more – up more than 1,500 since the program was launched.
Community Relations Officer Linda Buchman, the event master of ceremonies, noted that the Good Neighbor program began as a grassroots community effort to make SBISD the place in Houston to live, work, play, raise a family and educate children.
“This program has been nurtured by SBISD,” she said in opening remarks at the Omni, “by our education foundation, and by you – the corporations, businesses, faith communities, nonprofits, governmental entities, educational institutions and individuals here tonight.”
“You believe that our schools and our community are inextricably linked; that a strong educational system is vital to a successful community; that the support of a strong community is vital for successful public schools; that your investment of time and financial support increases student achievement and develops healthy, caring and responsible young people,” she added.
Chapelwood United Methodist recognition at this year’s dinner connects the Good Neighbor program to SBISD’s singular T-2-4 goal. The church’s adoption of this goal included an informational event for key lay leaders where volunteers pledged their support to SBISD students and schools.
The Rev. Jim Jackson, senior pastor at Chapelwood United Methodist since 1994, called the honor “amazing.” He told the packed Omni ballroom that he’d shared his own personal struggles with poor school grades and dyslexia earlier in the day with a teenager who had just dropped out of school.

“Some of the dumbest people I know are college grads,” Rev. Jackson quipped. He made the joke to point out the need to reach out to young people and support all of them as they climb into adulthood. Many successful adults were not high achievers as students. He also said that “[education] is critically important. I hope that all of our faith communities can come together to do this important work.”
The Rev. Jackson and Amy Taylor, Chapelwood’s Director of Local Serving, received the annual special recognition during the community gathering. This year’s spotlight program included church volunteers and students:
·       Chapelwood United Methodist’s Barby Bogart, who volunteers her time reading with students at Panda Path School for Early Learning, shared the stage with James Ulloa, a former prekindergarten student – dressed smartly in a coat and tie – who captured hearts as he read aloud his remarks clearly. “James is a reader, and that is a testament to Panda Path [School for Early Learning],” Barby said.
·       Spring Branch Elementary School volunteer and attorney Jim Byerly told PrincipalAnita Lundvall that his time at the school was the top hour of his week. “We love what all our volunteers do, and I’m proud to be at a school with volunteers like you,” Principal Lundvall said.
·       SWAP high school students Priscilla Lopez and Nirka Flores and sixth-graderJose Escobar described how SWAP’s Saturday meetings motivated them each month. Spring Oaks Middle School sixth-graders like Jose apply for admittance. Chapelwood volunteers now mentor 60 youth in a program started by retired SBISD teacher Janet Simms, a church member.
·       Academy of Choice graduate Zarahi Martinez praised her mentor, Susan Parish. “I’m so proud of her because she helped me graduate. I never thought that I’d graduate, but I did. She is my force. She is my strength. She keeps me going,” Zarahi said.
·       Northbrook High student Lauren Iozzio and Collegiate Challenge graduate Isabelita Mercado shared their experiences. Isabelita’s faith-based mentor stayed in close contact with her throughout her four years at the University of Texas at Austin. She teaches today at SBISD’s Panda Path School.
What makes Spring Branch ISD different, said Superintendent of Schools Duncan F. Klussmann, Ed.D., is its high level of community involvement, including faith-based congregations like Chapelwood United Methodist.
“It’s because of all of you that we can do so much. Chapelwood has taken 18 to 19 programs and put them all under one umbrella, and that’s helping us achieve T-2-4,” Dr. Klussmann said.
A separate video broadcast during the event dinner spotlighted several more Good Neighbors:Allison Gower for extensive program support in athletics and in other areas; Flight XXV for its mentoring support for Landrum Middle and Northbrook high schools; the University of Houston-Downtown’s Houston Prep Program, led by Sangeeta Gad; and Kirksey Architecture, which offers design workshops and other support for Architectural Computer-aided Design students at the district Guthrie Center.
Research compiled by the Houston Endowment in a recently released report found that only 22 percent of all Texas students earn a degree or certificate, and less than 13 percent of African-American and Latino students meet the same achievement.
In SBISD, those averages are higher, almost double the state, but the district still will need to increase Good Neighbors and volunteers “exponentially” to meet its goals, the district Superintendent said.
In her closing remarks, Community Relations Officer Buchman noted that Houston Endowment’s leading officers Larry Faulkner and George Grainger couldn’t find a ‘silver bullet’ to raising college-degree attainment, or what they have described as 'the Number.'
But, the two men also wrote, “The real question to be asked by anyone interested in the health and strength of our communities, or with responsibilities anywhere in the educational chain, is, ‘What can I, or my organization, do this year to improve the Number?”
SBISD’s Buchman said that there may not be a silver bullet in greater Houston, but “here in our small corner of the world, there are Good Neighbors, and while we cannot affect the outcomes for the entire nation, or even the state or city. . . You are, in a sense, our silver bullet – the hope on the pathway to brighter futures that our kids need, want and deserve.”

This year’s Good Neighbor dinner program ended with a call for guests to sign T-2-4 stickers pledging their support to students, similar to Chapelwood’s earlier call to action with its volunteers. In SBISD, the future is bright!
SBISD’s Abby Walker and the Community Relations and Communications departments supported this event with pre-planning, materials, decorations, publications, videos and other needs. Retired Partnerships & Volunteer Coordinator Sue Loudis contributed to the success of the event before retirement. 


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