It is a common cliché; "You changed my life." But, how many people really do?
Tom Tillapaugh not only changes lives; he literally saves them. Lots of them.
In 1985 Tom was led by his faith to begin an education ministry in Denver for the most seriously at risk, often forgotten, kids in society. He launched the Denver StreetSchool on East Colfax with the financial help of a business man and three kids in desperate need of help.
His model is built on four principles:
1. Small schools – typically only 50-60 kids
2. Small Classes – limit of 10
3. Strong interlocking relationships – adults willing to be "extremely inconvenienced"
4. A Christian School – Jesus "gives hope and purpose to even want to try."
Tom says the schools are run like an intensive care ward in a hospital. We need "adults who will pour themselves into these kids," he says. Saving and changing lives requires "sacrificial intervention into the lives of these kids by loving, caring adults to the point of extreme inconvenience."
What's that mean? "Doing something during the work day is not sacrificial, that's your job – what are you doing with the kid at 10:00 at night?" Tom asks. And, he walks the talk. Tom had to identify the body of a murdered student because he was considered next-of-kin. He held another as she died with AIDS. Tom and his wife routinely open their home to needy kids. As many as seven students – and their babies – have lived with Tom and his wife at one time.
These are kids that have already had too much trouble with the law, with drugs and gangs, and the public schools have given up on many of them. Personal relationships in their lives have typically been destructive. They will tell you that the StreetSchool saved their life – and they are not exaggerating.
Instead of going to jail – or a morgue – 85% of Street School students are graduating from high school. And, 83% are going on to a post-secondary education or a military career. Many have returned as StreetSchool teachers.
Tom's remarkable results quickly caught the attention of other committed education reformers across the nation. Today there are at least 40 StreetSchools in 24 states. The Bill Gates Foundation was sufficiently impressed with the performance of the StreetSchools that they made a rare grant to the faith based school. The Bush Administration invited Tom to participate on multiple occasions with First Lady Laura Bush's "Helping America's Youth Initiative."
Far beyond three kids in a vacant building on East Colfax in Denver, Tom now heads up a national association, the StreetSchool Network, http://streetschoolnetwork.org/.
Below is a link to a 13 minute presentation Tom made for a Heritage Foundation sponsored event hosted by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado. See the website
to learn more, contact them, visit a school, donate and pray for Tom and the StreetSchool Network and especially for the kids. Be sure to also check out the guest feature Tom authored for this April issue of A Line of Sight, "A History of Islamic Expansion."