Sparro Outreach impacts inner city students

Biolans spread the love of Christ by tutoring and teaching Davis Middle School students.

Alison Bognuda, Writer

Biola is a community that prides itself in actively working to impact the world for Jesus Christ. For some, this pursuit of impact looks like going on a short-term mission trip over interterm or summer. For others, it looks like weekend ministry trips to Tijuana. For one particular group called Sparro, this impact is right in the Los Angeles neighborhood.

Biolans start LA based school ministry

Sparro, which means “to sow” in Greek, is a Biola student-run ministry that offers teaching aid and tutoring to the students of Davis Middle School in Compton. Three times a week, one to two carloads of students from different majors and years travel there to share Jesus’ love by volunteering at the school, serving the students as well as the teachers.

The journey of the Sparro leaders began two years ago when then-freshman Josiah Gonzalez was praying about what he should do with his time at Biola. Gonzalez, now a junior English major, said that as he prayed, he felt the Lord saying, “I’ve given you a ton of resources at your disposal –– a full mental capacity, the resources of Biola –– what can you say that you have done with all that I’ve given you?”

Realizing that he would have left “no significant mark” upon graduating from Biola, Gonzalez began to research schools in local districts, looking for the one with the greatest need for tutors. It was during this process that he came upon Davis Middle School.

“[I had a] burden to connect with the city,” Gonzalez said.

Building a relationship through tutoring

Davis, a Title One school, is the lowest scoring school in the lowest scoring school district. Located in Compton, Davis has a student body of mostly African-Americans and Hispanics, and an extremely low Academic Performance Index, or API, which are taken from the school’s collective SAT scores, ranging in low 300s. When Gonzalez discovered these statistics, he knew he had found the right school.

“[The school was] in danger of being shut down or being taken over by the state,” Gonzalez said. “I want[ed] to tutor and I want[ed] to help this city… this was a good way to walk out what I had been praying about the day before.”

On May 9, 2009, Gonzalez traveled to Davis and met with Principal Seneida Wade, offering his services as a tutor. After months of legal paperwork, fingerprinting and a lot of prayer, Gonzalez and his two friends, senior English major Sarah Hernandez and senior computer science major Matthew Shaw began the ministry which is now Sparro.

Two years later, there are now 35 people involved in the ministry, with 20 actively tutoring and the rest operating in a supportive role, investing time and prayers into the ministry. Wade allows them to be in the classroom during school hours in the back of class helping those who need the most help, and even taking over the class when necessary, according to Gonzalez.

Weaving the Biola community and Davis

After building a relationship with the students, earning the respect and understanding of the teachers and winning the principal’s favor, Hernandez shared that Sparro is hoping to build a bridge between Biola and Davis. The principal is now working with the Sparro leaders to eventually have Biola adopt Davis.

“[This is] bigger than just the middle school…it’s building bridges with Compton… that Biola would adopt this school… [it could be] a place of service for the talents of Biola students,” Gonzalez said.

This process of adoption would include a number of factors, but the main goal is to integrate the Biola community with Davis. The vision is to enable to the Davis students to encounter a community and culture that they would otherwise never experience, while at the same time opening opportunities for exposure to a Christian context. Likewise, this would provide a context for Biola students to share their skills, talents and servant hearts with the Davis students.

Ministry through the arts

Sparro hopes that students from various majors and disciplines would be willing to join the ministry, not just as tutors, but as artists, musicians or any others, sharing a variety of talents with the Davis campus and Compton community. They are currently working with the English and art department, as well as the Torrey Honors Institute, to make this a reality.

A major vision right now, Gonzalez shared, is to incorporate more art in the ministry. Wade is allowing the students to create tag art around the Davis campus, and Sparro hopes to bring Biola students who can join the process. Biola is also exploring the possibility of bringing more art to the Biola campus as a bi-product of the Jesus mural discussion last year, and Sparro hopes to include Davis students in that process as well.

“We have a mural from an L.A. artist. How great would it be to send Biola students to L.A. to bring our art… That’s reconciliation,” Gonzalez said.

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