It may come as no surprise that many churches want to be in partnership with nearby schools. After all, churches and schools share a common mission, at least on this point: to serve the community by helping their constituents grow and mature and become responsible citizens.
How can churches help? Lovett Weems at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership offers a way to think about this by identifying four categories of church/school partnership.
Four Categories of Church/School Partnership
# 1: Helping Students Succeed.
Tutoring or mentoring may be the most common activity churches undertake. While many programs emphasize core skills such as writing, math, or English as a Second Language, don’t forget art, music or computer skills as possibilities. It’s important to shape the program around student needs by interviewing a teacher or administrator about gaps in preparation.
# 2 Assisting with Student Needs
In an article for The Parish Paper on school partnerships, Cynthia Woolever notes that the number of school children that receive free or reduced-cost lunches is a good indication of the poverty level in your county. These same children usually lack the basic necessities in several areas: nutrition, school supplies or school clothing or uniforms. Every fall, one church gathers school supplies and essential clothing (for instance, underwear) for elementary age students.
Susan Kirkpatrick, a United Methodist pastor, tells of her church in Gravois Mills, Missouri that provides special “Kids Paks” for area children during the summer. Each “Kids Pak“ supplies one child with two meals a day for four days. In this school district, 80% of students on free or reduced lunches.
# 3 Supporting and Affirming the Work of Teachers
Teachers too often find themselves the brunt of attacks both from local community members and elected officials. Here are ideas to support them:
- Hold a worship service at the start of the school year to honor teachers or a community event at the end of the school year to celebrate accomplishments.
- Contribute or provide funding for classroom supplies.
- Host a thank you lunch for teachers.
- Provide volunteers for the classroom.
# 4 Advocating for Schools and Education
While service projects are fun and often worthwhile, addressing systemic challenges for schools can often achieve a more lasting impact. Keeping track of school district policy and attending school board meetings are both ways of becoming informed. A variation on this theme: consider inviting a principal or panel of educators for a church-sponsored forum on education. A retired elementary school teacher I know frequently posts on Facebook about issues related to education policy in her state.
For more information on how to support schools, read Cynthia Woolever’s article, “Back to School: How Churches Can Partner With Local Schools,” The Parish Paper, Sept. 2014 (http://www.theparishpaper.com).
Cynthia Woolever, “Back to School: How Churches Can Partner With Local Schools,” The Parish Paper, Sept. 2014 (Vol. 22, No. 9).