This week the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board heard about the official launch of the national component of the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” campaign aimed at bringing quality education to one million children in the U.S. and around the world by 2020. The international component was launched in 2014 at the 221st General Assembly.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) launched the national portion of the initiative at today’s Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day in Washington, D.C., challenging presbyteries and congregations to “roll up their sleeves” and get involved.

Education has always been a part of the Presbyterian DNA, beginning with John Calvin, who helped bring public education to Geneva. And it has been the core of the denomination’s mission work around the world for more than 100 years.

Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly (2014), has been a champion for the Educate a Child campaign from the beginning. “In infant baptism, the church acknowledges the beloved nature of children from their first days,” he said. “Presbyterians in mission and ministry have a long tradition of serving all of God’s children with life’s blessings.”

In the US, more than 16 million children live in poverty, while nearly half must survive on an annual income of less than half the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Today, education is at a crossroads. Millions of children living in poverty do not have access to a quality education, while a growing number of young people are dropping out in ninth or 10th grade. Poverty is the biggest roadblock to a young person’s success in life, and education is the key to changing that outcome.

“We have reached a crisis in this country with only 18 percent of schools meeting basic reading standards,” said Eileen Lindner, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Tenafly in New Jersey and consultant to the Educate a Child initiative. “The US Department of Education reports significant shortages of teachers in math, science, special education and bilingual education.”

Working collaboratively with the international portion of the education initiative, the national effort will work to strengthen early childhood education and reduce the adolescent dropout rate. Churches are encouraged to get involved with schools in their communities by volunteering as tutors, creating or upgrading early childhood centers, organizing an afterschool center and more.

“A number of Presbyterian churches across the country have well established programs to help children at risk succeed,” said Alonzo Johnson, mission associate for Peacemaking. “Some programs have been in place for years and have seen significant results. Others provide basics such as school supplies, backpacks, clothing and more so that every child who wants to learn has that opportunity.”

Johnson leads a multidisciplinary staff team responsible for coordinating the national portion of the initiative. Part of that work includes providing leadership-training opportunities to equip Presbyterians with skills and expertise to get involved in education at the local, state and national levels, including at Big Tent in July.

“We are excited to lift up the stories of congregations already involved in and dedicated to supporting children at risk in the area of education,” said Johnson. “We believe that sharing these stories and best practices will inspire and equip other congregations as they engage in this important work.”

Church members are encouraged to get involved at the policy level as well. The campaign urges people to increase their involvement with local school boards, support legislation for better schools and learn more about their communities’ school dropout rate.

“Too often the dividing line of education runs through the intersections of poverty and race,” said J. Herbert Nelson, II, director of the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, during the announcement last June. “As long as there is a church on the corner, one person can make a difference. No child should be left behind; every child should be able to learn.”

The crisis is global, and that’s why the campaign has an international component as well.

The focus of the international component of the campaign is addressing the root causes of poverty, especially as they impact women and children. “We have to work together with partners to ensure safe access for students and teachers, increase and improve school readiness programs [for early childhood], expand teacher training and improve learning environments for all children,” said Frank Dimmock, World Mission’s catalyst for poverty alleviation. “Every child has the right to grow into adulthood equipped with the skills, knowledge and competencies required to live a healthy, safe and productive life.”

Click here to learn more about the national component of the education initiative, and here for more information about the international campaign.

Individuals or congregations interested in giving directly to the national portion of the initiative can do so through the ECO E052178 or by clicking here. Donations to the international component can be made through ECO E052143.