Creating a School & Faith

I asked Sonia Wang, a friend and member of New Community, to write this post about the role of faith in starting a school.  It’s a great reflection pulling belief together in her life.  Here we go.

About three years ago, a few of my colleagues and I found ourselves disgruntled about the obstacles standing in the way of our students’ learning. It seemed that learning had been reduced to mastering basic literacy and numeracy skills, teacher voice was constantly overlooked if even ever sought, and school metrics were prioritized over authentic learning. It was the result of systemic tensions that continue to plague our public education system, and at the core, our community’s young generation of students.

We thought to ourselves: what would a school that was created by a group of educators who have been in the classroom look like? We tossed a few ideas around- a focus on social justice, fostering qualities of resilience, empathy, and curiosity, and celebrating collaboration and discussion. In the case of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), we knew the only possible route we could take as a group of educators was to apply for a charter. A lofty, pie in the sky thought…some would call the whole notion sticking our heads in the clouds.

However, as I prayed through the initial process, it all just made sense. From unique corners of our teaching experiences, God brought together six teachers, with a diverse background of life experiences. We spent the first 2 years figuring out what this “school” of ours would look like. With the pending political change in Chicago, there was no sign of new charter applications being considered in CPS. During these two years, we began to form the foundation of our school, but with the unknown looming over our heads, it continued to feel like a “project” rather than us pursuing our vision. In these two years, two members decided to leave the group and doubts filled our head.

My biggest concern took form in two ways:

1.    I would continue to remind myself that God’s hand was in all this but a fear of failure overwhelmed me. So I was stuck in a place of paralysis—wanting to seek support and prayer from my community but not wanting to tell anyone about it. As is the case, once you go public, it becomes more real. And in that moment, the school did not feel real at all.

2.   Then there was the overwhelming doubt that I tried to avoid over and over but there it was always—what if it doesn’t work out? What I if I waste years of my life, in my “prime,” pursuing this lofty goal that we’ll never be able to achieve? I would sometimes think to myself, during this time, how I could be doing A, B, and C if I weren’t working on this school… After all, how often do you see a group of 20-somethings starting a charter school when most charter schools are started by a management organization with a track record?

Perhaps it was circumstance that changed things or perspective, or both. But I cannot deny that God is the orchestrator. In the third year, God tugged on my heart to share with my community- my close friends and my church family. The overwhelming support and excitement they displayed gave me the energy to keep pushing for my school even when it felt like it was a flat attempt.

Through the support I was also reminded of the big picture—I wasn’t merely trying to open a school; God created this space where I saw something problematic and rather than sitting in it, He gave me the opportunity to respond to it. And that in and of itself was something for me to embrace. It became not about me but about who God is—how big He is and how great His glory is. And as this truth settled in me, I approached this endeavor less as pursuing my dream but an opportunity to respond to God’s glory.

The third year of this process also became a whirlwind of an experience. At the start of this year, CPS put out a call for applications for charters; luckily, those two years of groundwork our team started paid off. We got together our application and submitted it. Late June we received approval to move into the next phase, which consisted of completing a proposal that was intense and comprehensive. Things started to take tangible form. From community partnerships to facilities, God provided and blessed us one thing after another. He connected us to people who connected us to other people who then provided services to us, such as building inspections, real estate research, financial consulting, etc. Word about our work in our proposed community spread and as we walked down the street, community members would ask about the school-when is it coming? Where can they sign up their child for it? Could they request that we hold a spot for their 2-year old?

By God’s grace, we completed a 169-page proposal and were invited to the next phase, an interview. As the team member who was delivering the opening statement, I found peace and comfort in a verse that was written on the piece of paper I had prepared for the interview:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7

Sure enough, through Him, I have come to this point in starting a school—learning to wait in faith until a decision is made. However, as I think of the school we have proposed and the way our work has brought together a group of strangers, the Design Team, Board Members, and community members, united by the single vision of a south-side charter school that celebrates students for their voice and their individual strengths, I know that His work has already been done. And I am excited to see what more may come about through His power and might!