Making School-Church Partnerships Work

Making School-Church Partnerships Work 1

Forty-five-year-old teacher’s aide Cheryl Vinings collapsed and passed away at college while endeavoring to break up a disagreement between two 5th graders. In November 2001 Her predicted death, attributed to undiagnosed cardiomyopathy later, shocked and saddened the school community at Challenger Elementary in Kentwood, Mich. But it additionally galvanized a group of parents into action. “After she died, some parents got and had a prayer session together,” says Ken Raby.

“We asked, ‘How can we help our college? ‘ ” After unsuccessfully seeking retired volunteers to help guide at-risk children, the group discovered that the answer to their prayers was as close as their local churches. Specifically, they installed with a national organization called Kids Hope USA, which trains church volunteers to each mentor a single child 1 hour a week at school. While Kids Hope would provide the training and participating churches would ultimately pay for it, the parents had to get the church partners. So Ray used his sales skills to identify 38-area churches and their pastors, then worked with Challenger primary Char Firlik to send a personalized notice to each one.

Another parent contacted the mayor, who decided to send a follow-up letter to each pastor endorsing this program. And when the pastor of the church involved with Kids Hope found out about these efforts already, he wanted to host a luncheon, an invitation accepted by almost half the churches contacted by the parents.

As an outcome, Challenger has a partner in Unity Christian Reformed Cathedral now, and other colleges in the certain area are being matched up with churches, as well. “I understand it’s going to produce a difference,” Firlik says. Kids Hope USA, based in Holland, Mich., is one source that has linked many churches and colleges. At its 1995 inception, most requests came from churches, however now a majority of calls emanate from individual schools or from school systems, say founder and executive director Virgil Gulker, who encourage parent groups to get hold of him, too.

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Churches must name a volunteer coordinator and must bear the cost of sending that person to Kids Hope USA for two and a half days of training. Many other kids do the thing is within my school ‘How? In Zeeland, Mich., it was two local churches interested in volunteering through Kids Hope USA that contacted Robert Vander Zwaag, primary of Woodbridge Elementary.

“They asked if we had a need, if we had kids who could socially benefit, emotionally, and academically from one-on-one tutoring,” says Vander Zwaag. A church selects to support a school through donations Sometimes. One beneficiary of such efforts is Mark Twain Elementary in Federal Way, Wash., which has a large population of recent immigrants, most of them Hispanic and Russian Ukrainian. Eighty percent of students reside in apartments, the majority of which are government subsidized, and the educational school also provides the largest number of free and reduced lunches in the district. Years ago, representatives from the school approached churches of which different staffers attended services.

Today, three area churches assist with school supplies and present Christmas gifts to specific school-identified children, a lot of whom require winter or shoes jackets. The churches also help children purchase required uniforms. Among the churches helping Mark Twain Elementary is Saltwater Unitarian Universalist in nearby Des Moines. Rev. James Kubal-Komoto distributes a summary of needed school materials to the congregation, and on one Sunday each September, he says, “We collect supplies as part of the offering. People walk down the aisle and drop in pencils and pens and binders and folders.” These supplies receive to families by Mark Twain parent advocate Phyllis Savini.

“Whenever we enroll students, we can inform those that need more assistance,” she says. The support in Moore County, N.C., will come in many types and from many sources, perhaps because of the school system’s sponsorship of regular “hand-in-hand faith breakfasts” to which local ministers are invited to learn more about school-church partnerships. These breakfasts grew from the efforts of 1 pastor to seek the school system’s assist in enhancing his church’s after-school tutoring program.