“Right on school is more than a school; it’s more like a feeling because it’s a family,” says Karon Jackson.
Thirty-nine years ago, a predominantly African-American parish in Rochester, N.Y., with a significant percentage of teachers as parishioners decided that an after-school enrichment program might be their niche. Little did they know the program would grow first into a summer camp and then the largest summer program for city children in the city of Rochester.
By the 1980s, Right On School was the largest of several urban ministries sponsored by St. Simon’s Episcopal Church.
In 1988, St. Simon’s merged with an old downtown parish, St. Luke’s, and left its building. But the new joint parish made a commitment to the school and keeps it still. Not only is the program the city’s largest, it is the only free one. It’s served hundreds of elementary and junior high school students over the years.
“The program has been around long enough that students who went through are now sending their children,” says Madeline Gamble, chair of the Right On School advisory committee at St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene. One of the schools’ biggest fans is an alumnus who is now a city councilman, Adam McFadden.
Jackson and Sharon Cardoza, a parishioner who is director of the program, have worked together for 19 of the school’s years. Under them the school has grown — last year there were 275 students — and they have a bigger dream.
“I dream of the first Episcopal day school in Rochester, serving the children of this city,” says Cardoza. “It’s always been about the children, bringing them together from diverse backgrounds and watching them develop and grow.”
One of the school’s central goals for the six weeks of the summer program is character building through an integration of academic, cultural and recreational components. This is reflected in the school’s creed, written by Jackson, which begins, “I am proud of who I am and where I came from,” and ends, “I am not perfect, but I am somebody and I will be the best at whatever I do.” These values contribute to giving the school that “family feeling.”
Besides St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, the Diocese of Rochester, and several other Rochester parishes and grant-making organizations support the program.
Next year, a week of nonviolence training will be available thanks to a grant from the United Thank Offering. It is desperately needed. In 2005, Rochester experienced the most street violence of any city in New York, and 2006 is bringing more of the same.
“It is not enough for us to demand more police to make our streets safer,” the Rev. Michael Hopkins, St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene rector preached on “Right On School Sunday. “We, the body of Christ, must bring peace to our streets, and that means teaching the tools of peace.”