The Baptist General Convention of Texas launched an effort to put free General Equivalency Diploma programs in its affiliated churches June 28.
The move is the latest from the BGCT’s Hispanic Education Initiative, which seeks to help Hispanic students attain their educational goals. In addition to the GED effort, the convention is partnering with the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas to designate volunteers who will serve as Hispanic Academic Directors to advise both students and adult-learners in 1,000 Hispanic congregations.
“Our commitment is to see people get their degrees or their GEDs and move on to college,” said Gus Reyes, the Hispanic Education Initiative director.
The initiative aims to equip Texas Baptist churches with the resources needed to help expand educational opportunities for minority students and promote adult education through a free, online GED program.
The initiative’s underlying goal is to decrease the number of high school dropouts across the state. But Reyes said it will be “a tall mountain to climb.”
“There are a lot of facets to this initiative,” he said. “We want to get them into school, keep them there, help them graduate … and get them into college. We also want to reclaim those who have already dropped out.”
The BGCT is working to find scholarships and resources for minorities seeking to further their education.
“We saw that it was very hard for a [person] to take the next step in their educational career,” said Suzii Paynter, director of BGCT Christian Life Commission and member of the initiative’s education advisory committee. “Two years ago, the state of Texas committed only $7 million to adult education in Texas.”
In April, Paynter — along with members of the BGCT Hispanic Education Advisory Committee and other leaders — took these educational concerns to the Texas legislature.
The legislature developed a statewide literacy council and approved the allocation of $25 million to enhance literacy programs. Additionally, the state will give $25 million to accepted agencies for demonstration of model program work.
Jesse Rincones — Hispanic education advisory committee member, second vice president of the Hispanic Baptist Convention and pastor of Alliance Church in Lubbock — said the initiative is an act of spiritual obedience.
“Jesus invited us to worship him with all of our hearts, souls and our minds,” he said. “We can be passionate about our faith and our worship, but when we expand the minds of our children and their parents, it allows them to … be a functioning and pivotal part of the body of Christ in order to impact the community.”
Rincones believes the initiative with have long-term effects on community leadership.
“Hispanic education attendance rates in seminaries are low,” he said. “We have [about] 1,500 Hispanic churches, and somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of those have leaders with advanced degrees. This largely affects our congregations and Hispanic communities.”
Reyes said the initiative is “aggressively seeking to enlist a Hispanic academic director for each of the 42 Hispanic fellowships in Texas” so it can provide churches with as much training as possible.
Roughly 20 percent of cooperating BGCT Baptist churches are Hispanic, but BGCT Executive Director Randel Everett said the initiative is not limited to serving Hispanic congregations.
Free programs can be available at cooperating Baptist churches for any person, regardless of church membership. Everett said the Texas Hispanic Education Initiative is a glimpse of what the BGCT is all about.
“Education … has always been at the heart of who we are,” he said. “We want to speak for the marginalized … and provide reachable education for our community.”
For more information about the free GED programs or academic directors, call 888-244-9400.
Story by Crystal Donahue