“My dream has been, ‘How do we get the community more involved in the school?’ ”
An African proverb says, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” But how does that translate into our world of sprawling expansion, as more families evolve into the self-enclosed “nuclear” type? How do churches, social service agencies, and schools collaborate to give children the best opportunities to develop? Boyer fellow Don Murk, professor of early childhood education, has set out to answer these questions.
“My dream has been, ‘How do we get the community more involved in the school?’” Murk says. That dream has begun to take form with his involvement in the collaborative effort between Capital Area Head Start (CAHS) and the Harrisburg School District (HSD) to educate more than 500 area preschoolers. Murk’s involvement with the CAHS-HSD program, which includes serving on its advisory board, seems almost serendipitous. After student teaching in Harrisburg in 1978, Murk planned to work there after graduation. Unfortunately, after a successful interview for a teaching position, he was not hired. “I had a plan that I thought was what should happen,” Murk says. “God’s plan was a little bit different.”
Twenty years passed before Debra Reuvenny, director of early childhood programs at HSD, asked Murk to offer professional development for Head Start instructors and HSD teachers. In the meantime, Murk earned graduate degrees from Penn State and the University of Maryland and began teaching in Messiah’s education department. “Now, I can influence or impact a lot more people than I think I could have if I had gotten that job and taught there [in Harrisburg].” He also muses about the rate of burnout among public city school teachers. “I wonder how long I would have lasted before I got disillusioned. But in the role I’m in now, I can look at those issues. I can say to the teachers, ‘OK, I know you’re feeling pressured to accomplish all that the government says you have to do, but what about the kids’ lives? Are we really meeting their needs and helping their parents?’”
With grants obtained under the auspices of Messiah’s Harrisburg Institute, Murk developed a unique one-day training session, covering topics that the teachers, themselves, deemed most pressing: English language learners/English as a second language and classroom management. To address these two concerns, Murk recruited the expertise of two Messiah colleagues: Linda Parkyn, professor of Spanish, and Sue Long, then the director of the Early Learning Center. Response from the teachers has been tremendously positive, and Murk plans to provide continued professional devel-opment in the future.
For Murk, though, this is just one phase in a renewed effort to get involved in Harrisburg. “Just last spring,” he says, “my wife and I started to attend the Harrisburg Brethren in Christ Church. It’s another way to make connections in the city and to be able to do more in the community. . . . I envision that as becoming part of this whole thing— getting more involved in the community through church and through the CAHS-HSD program.”