Churches Assisting Public Schools
Family North Carolina MagazineSeptember/October 2008
by Joe Murchison
Three years ago, Principal Dana King of Millbrook High, a public school in Raleigh, was approached by a parent, Doug Walton, who said, “How can I begin praying for the needs of the school and serving here?” King had learned to be skeptical about such offers, for such help was often short-lived, came with strings attached, or caused her more work than it was worth.
Walton persisted, adding that he wanted to get his church, Crossroads Fellowship, involved. King suggested they pray for the school. Walton did so, sometimes with King. And he continued to press her to give him and his fellow church members more to do. After a year, King told him that many of Millbrook’s students came from low-income families with no father present, and they needed men in their lives. She suggested Walton bring male church members to the school at lunch period and befriend students, as long as no religious proselytizing occurred. Walton and his group followed her suggestion.
These visits evolved into a one-on-one mentoring program during the 2007-2008 school year. Fifteen men from Crossroads and two other churches talked with their paired students once-a-week during a 30-minute lunch period, bringing meals to share from a fast-food restaurant. At a year-end luncheon for the entire group, the students were invited to talk about their mentors. King came away amazed. “They gave these incredible testimonies,” she said. “I’m still in a little bit of shock as to how quickly these relationships developed and how much it meant to the kids and the mentors.”
Churches increasingly are partnering with public schools to reach out to their surrounding communities. The National Adopt-a-School Initiative, one part of this movement, came to Crossroads Fellowship in June to give a four-day workshop on how to develop such a program. Fifty people attended, most from churches in central North Carolina but others from as far away as Illinois and Florida. Representatives of the Wake County Public School System, Wake County Human Services Department, Raleigh Police Department and North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention attended, indicating that school systems and other public agencies want church help to address and overcome the challenges they face.
The National Adopt-a-School Initiative is an outgrowth of the 8,000-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, a church in Dallas, Texas, where Dr. Tony Evans is pastor. Evans is well-known around the country through his weekly broadcasts on 600 radio stations and 100 television stations, not to mention his 40 books.
The workshop included a video of Evans explaining that a principal’s plea launched his church’s adopt-a-school program in the late 1980s. The principal, presiding at a disorderly, low-performing Dallas high school, approached the pastor for help. Evans recruited 12 men from his church to walk the halls, tutor and mentor. “An amazing thing happened: grades went up and delinquency went down,” Evans said. When the principal became an assistant superintendent in charge of 18 schools, he asked the church to adopt all 18. Word spread to other school administrators, and now Oak Cliff places volunteers in 64 Dallas schools.
Churches that ignore the needs of the community around them fail to heed the call of the gospel, Evans said. “You are the salt of the earth. What good is salt to preserve meat if it’s stuck in the shaker? What good are Christians for the world if they’re stuck in the sanctuary? You are the light of the worldnot the light of the sanctuary.”
Communities, stressed by crime, addictions, family breakdown and other dysfunctions, desperately need the teaching and helping hand of churches, Evans noted. “We’re in a mess in every conceivable way people can be in a mess. ... Unless the church steps up, we will lose another generation of young people.” Schools, he said, provide unique avenues to reach young people and their families “to rebuild communities from the inside out.”
The Web site www.mentoring.org cites a number of studies indicating that well-designed, sustained school mentoring programs can improve at-risk students’ academic performance, behavior and self-confidence.
Church volunteers are not allowed to share the gospel explicitly while volunteering in a public school, but relationships often grow to include out-of-school activities. In Oak Cliff’s case, the church has added an annual start-of-school rally at the church, with speakers addressing such issues as staying in school, staying abstinent and staying away from drugs and gangs. The church also has opened a pregnancy center, outfitted a technology center and started a food and clothing ministry for the neighborhoodall places where faith can be discussed. The technology center, with banks of computers, offers electronic tutoring and remediation to students, as well as GED and English for Foreign Speakers courses to adults.
Maurice Moore, senior administrator of a mentoring program with the Wake County Public School System, attended the adopt-a-school workshop to learn how churches could provide volunteers for his program. He noted that many of the county’s schools have students on a mentoring waiting list, with too few volunteers to meet the need. “I think it’s an awesome opportunity to get some of the faith-based organizations to get involved in some of the issues that the communities faceespecially the youthand become part of the solution,” Moore said. He noted that youth who join gangs often say they did so because no one was there for them. He added that the school system believes mentors can help the schools narrow the ethnic achievement gap and boost students who struggle to meet ever-higher academic requirements.
Bill Collins, vice president of The Urban AlternativeDr. Tony Evans’ national ministrynoted that the potential is great, since Raleigh has 12 churches for each public school. Nationally, there are seven churches per public school.
In his video talk, Evans told of how sanitariums for the mentally ill formerly tested patients to see if they were ready to re-enter society. Patients were placed in a closet with water running into a sink that had a stopper in the drain. The patients were handed a mop. If the patients tried to mop up the overflowing water, they were not ready for release. If they turned off the water or pulled out the stopper, they were ready. “As much mopping as we’re doing (to cope with today’s social ills), the water is still overflowing,” Evans said. Churches adopting schools can be a “root-based approach to fixing the mess rather than a mop-based approach.”
Dr. Tony Evans’ organization offers workshops on the National Adopt-a-School Initiative several times a year, including ones on Sept. 29-Oct. 3 in Dallas and Oct. 22-24 in Baltimore. See www.tonyevans.org.
Joe Murchison is a freelance writer and former editor of the Laurel Leader in Laurel, MD. He is currently working on a biography entitled: Caution to the Wind: Faith Lessons from the Life of Don McClanen, Founder of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Ministry of Money.
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.