RICHMOND, Va. — Scarce funding for public education may offer churches an opportunity to work more closely with public schools in their neighborhoods.
That’s the assessment of Diane Smith, children’s ministry specialist at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, who is developing a ministry she calls “1:1 — One Church, One School.”
“Many schools are experiencing cutbacks in staffing, resources and budgets,” she said. “Our school staffs are being asked to do more with less.”
Working with public schools gives congregations a chance to work with children and families, and to minister “outside the church house,” she added.
A 1:1 ministry starts with a conversation with a school’s principal, Smith said. Among the talking points to be made:
- Ask, “How can we help you in your job of educating our children?”
- Make a commitment that you will not “religiously influence” students or staff.
- Promise to work within the boundaries determined by the school administration.
- Commit to conducting criminal background checks on all church members who participate in the endeavor.
- Ask if the church can “adopt” the school faculty and staff and “treat” them at various times of the year — for instance, providing snacks in the teachers’ lounge.
- A 1:1 ministry could include several facets, Smith noted:
- Eating lunch with a class or student.
- Reading to students.
- Assisting office or media center staff.
- Providing after-school playground watch.
- Helping teachers and students plant and cultivate a vegetable or flower garden.
- Offering “Friday backpacks” filled with food to be given to students who staff and teachers know will not have adequate food during weekends. The backpacks are returned by the students on Monday.
“It’s very important to keep the commitments made to the staff regarding religious influence,” Smith said. “Our schools are required to work within specific legal limits and we need to support that. Bottom line is — be helpful and be kind. Sounds like a Bible verse, doesn’t it?”
Another partnership effort is Kids Hope USA, a national mentoring program that equips churches to train and recruit mentors within their congregation to form one-to-one relationships with at-risk children in neighborhood schools.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Dilday is managing editor of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald, the newsjournal of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.)