Issues of poverty & kids attract record crowd to ‘working lunch’

October 22, 2009 by

Concordia School Superintendant Bev Mortimer, at right, reviews statistics about family poverty and its impact on children during a crowded working lunch at the Sisters of St Joseph Motherhouse Thursday.

Concordia School Superintendant Bev Mortimer, at right, reviews statistics about family poverty and its impact on children during a crowded 'working lunch' at the Sisters of St Joseph Motherhouse Thursday.

Nearly 60 people from throughout the community sat in silence as Concordia School Superintendent Bev Mortimer ticked off point after point about local poverty and at-risk kids. But it wasn’t Mortimer’s rapid-fire delivery that kept the record crowd at Thursday’s “working lunch” at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse silent; rather, it was the sobering statistics she presented in outlining the challenges faced by Concordia’s kids and their families.


With 1,168 students in Concordia’s public schools — “as of this morning, not accounting for kids out with the flu,” Mortimer noted — more than half have family incomes low enough to be eligible for the federal free- and reduced-lunch program. That’s up from 38 percent in 2001, she said.

School Superintendent Bev Mortimer answers a question during a small-group discussion after her presentation at Thursdays working lunch.

School Superintendent Bev Mortimer answers a question during a small-group discussion after her presentation at Thursday's 'working lunch.'

A recent study of sixth through 12th graders indicated that while 70 percent of the Concordia youth who responded said they have strong family support, some 77 percent said their friends — rather than family or other adults — are their best role models. In fact, only 30 percent of the youth said adults in their lives “model positive, responsible behavior.”


Two-thirds of the youth said they are motivated to do well in school, yet nearly one-third said they see no useful role of themselves in the community.


Despite some troubling trends, Mortimer said she was very positive about academic achievement overall, pointing out that in mandated standardized testing, Concordia students consistently match or better Kansas averages.

And, Mortimer noted, the results from the Kansas State Assessment, given to students in grades 3 through 8 and 11, have been consistently improving — particularly in reading, where local kids at every grade level have done better than the state average.

“We know if we can teach all our kids to read, we have opened big doors for them,” Mortimer said.

She also pointed out that the local school district has received two Certificates of Merit from the Kansas Public Education Task Force. Only 64 districts in Kansas received these awards for 2009, and Concordia is one of only 29 that received two or more awards — one of its eighth-grade reading achievement and one for achievement in 11th-grade math.

Thursday’s meeting was the seventh in a process that started in the fall of 2008 with informal lunches at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse, at 13th and Washington streets. In addition to identifying what participants see as the greatest needs in the community, the meetings have established smaller groups to seek solutions.

Past lunches have attracted 40 to 45 participants, so the sisters were surprised by the large turnout Thursday. Many suspected it was because of the high level of interest in problems of poverty and its impact on children, which led the agenda. But there were also two new projects discussed and a number of updates on continuing projects:

Sister Betty Suther, center, and organic gardener Steve Mitchell listen as Lorene Steimel, left, makes a point during the small-group discussion Thursday about plans for a community garden at the Motherhouse. The organic garden is expected to be available to community gardeners next spring.

Sister Betty Suther, center, and organic gardener Steve Mitchell listen as Lorene Steimel, left, makes a point during the small-group discussion Thursday about plans for a community garden at the Motherhouse. The organic garden is expected to be available to community gardeners next spring.


• Sister Betty Suther of Manna House of Prayer explained the plan for a community organic garden in the northeast corner of the Motherhouse property. With her was Steve Mitchell, the organic gardener for the Motherhouse who will serve as the organic adviser for community residents who sign up to grow vegetables and flowers in the 100-by-200 foot plot next spring.


Sister Betty said the committee planning the garden hopes it can provide produce to help families eat a healthier diet while also educating gardeners about taking care of the land.

• Pat Gerhardt of Concordia explained a $25,000 grant that’s available from the National Fatherhood Initiative, with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She said the grants are available through a competitive bidding process “for local community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and other grassroots agencies” to help build programs for fathers. A number of participants at Thursday’s meeting expressed interest in working with Gerhardt on the grant proposal, which must be submitted by Nov. 6.

• Sister Jean Rosemarynoski updated the group on the Concordia Year of Peace, which officially began with the Fall Fest parade on Sept. 25 and continues with a class and workshop in partnership with the Frank Carlson Library, local columns about peace and nonviolent living every Friday in the Concordia Blade-Empire and Year of Peace logo buttons and shirts. Other events are being planned and will be scheduled as the 16-month “year” continues, Sister Jean said.

The continuing “working lunches” are open to everyone in the community, and anyone can join at any time. If you’d like to be reminded of the next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 7, 2010, please contact Sister Jean at 243-2149 or sisterjean@csjkansas.org.

Comments

One Response to “Issues of poverty & kids attract record crowd to ‘working lunch’”

  1. Christine Doman,CSJ on October 31st, 2009 12:38 pm

    This is such a heart warming and touching review of interested folks for kids in the Concordia area. Thanks to each of you who participated, organized and prayed for these important social justice issues, especially for kid’s needs.

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