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Churches look to serve schools wherever needed

 

Scott Barkley/Index

Textbooks surround Cherokee High School assistant principal Mark Smith July 27. Smith, in his first year at CHS, is in charge of the school’s textbook inventory. Administrators say one way volunteers can be useful is to help distribute such materials to students.

Tomorrow evening, principal Tom Alexander will meander the hallways at Lewis Frasier Middle School in Hinesville, welcoming students and parents back from the summer. His faculty will do the same in their classrooms. He hopes to see a large representation of yet a third group.

Although it may sound like sacrilege in South Georgia – Bulldog country – Alexander is hoping to see a lot of volunteers.

“Whenever we can get a few more sets of eyes to help around the school, we’ll take it,” he added.

With limited financial resources cutting positions and paperwork consuming time, teachers have it tough keeping an eye on all students and taking care of the nuts and bolts that go into making a school run smoothly. It’s a situation that lends itself to be a ministry for churches looking to do more than sponsor a Bible club.

On Monday, when close to 1,000 students come through the doors, Alexander said more volunteers means a smoother start to the year. More people helping students navigate to new classes. More to fill out paperwork. More to begin handing out textbooks.

In short, more time for teachers to teach.

One northwest Georgia church has found prime opportunities in athletics. When Chris Pritchett became pastor at Pleasant Grove Baptist in Bowman, he approached the football coach of a local school and asked about being the team’s chaplain. They already had one, so the pastor became the guy that did everything else.

Pritchett had already developed a 12th Man ministry as a youth minister in Carrollton and Dalton, borrowing from the term commonly used to refer to football fans cheering their 11 players on the field. Although on the sidelines, so to speak, their effort can be the key between a win and loss.

“The heart of the ministry is servant leadership,” said Pritchett. “We try to teach that to our members. That kind of ministry puts us doing all sorts of jobs for the school. We mark lines for the baseball field, wash uniforms, do announcements, provide water. On Friday nights during football season we’ll work 12-14 hours. People are going home and we’re there cleaning up until two in the morning.

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One morning last week parent and teacher Cindy Kochansky emailed Nicole Holmes, principal at Liberty Elementary School in Canton, to see if any help was needed. An email response resulted in Kochansky’s coming to the school and helping put together the staff handbook. Assisting is her daughter, Katarina, 4.

“I tell our members that it might not give you an immediate chance to share the gospel, but it will give you a platform from which you’ll eventually get the opportunity.”

 

Servants first

Despite their church affiliation, 12th Man members don’t go looking to witness on campus at the four schools and one college with which they’re involved. That’s not the point, leaders say.

“We put ourselves out there as servants first,” said Jeff Freeman, Pleasant Grove Men’s Ministry director. “We’re not going there necessarily as chaplains but just to help out. Over time these kids see you day in and day out doing your job and you build a rapport with them. They know they can come to you with questions.”

During football season, the 30 or so church members who make up 12th Man wash jerseys, help set up practices, and supply water during breaks. Freeman said the amount of work at each location varies.

“At one school a coach just wants a chaplain. At others there are 2-3 people there every day helping. It’s spread into other areas where we help with the cheerleaders and the band.

“At the end of each season we have a banquet at the church. We’ve seen kids get saved through that. This is one of those [ministries] that’s blown wide open.” School leaders are quick to point out that there are plenty more opportunities to serve than just on the athletic field.

Pam Biser, in her second year as principal at Cherokee High School in Canton, oversees a student population of nearly 2,200 alongside her 180 staff members. Ask her about opportunities to serve and a proverbial laundry list is presented.

“We’re busy doing a million things leading up to school starting and then getting into the year,” she said. “Volunteers can stuff First Day packets for students, checking to make sure all the information is correct. They can help get textbooks issued and during the year do things like make copies for teachers. Our campus is very large, so we could even use help keeping it cleaned up.”

Biser added that during the school year volunteers can sign up for a mentoring program. During the summer groups can sponsor the $400 tuition for summer school.

“A lot of kids that need the extra work can’t afford it,” she said. “It helps them stay on course to graduate. During Christmas and the holidays there are many financial needs for students.”

Across town Biser’s colleague, Nicole Holmes, advocates the use of volunteers, and lots of them.

 

First Baptist Church

Participants in the after school program hosted by First Baptist Church in Forest Park conduct an end-of-year program. The church established the program three years ago.

Helping students succeed

Now in her first year as principal at Liberty Elementary, Holmes worked with 150-200 daily volunteers as assistant principal at Bascomb Elementary in Woodstock. It’s a practice she intends on making standard at her new position.

“As an administrator I love the idea of volunteers helping students become successful, she said. “There is so much responsibility on a teacher that when a parent comes in and helps out it greatly benefits the child.

“Others volunteer as well. A grandmother last year was well-known by everyone. A parent whose children are in high school came here to read to our students.”

Throughout the year help is needed in the office, mailroom, media center, and other locations, added Holmes. Children need to be monitored in the cafeteria during lunch. Greeters at the door can run a left-behind lunchbox to a child’s classroom, thus negating the hoopla when Johnny or Suzie see mom or dad.

“If they want, volunteers can even have homework and not come to school,” said Holmes. “Teachers can provide materials to make file folder games or they can assist with contacting others through the phone tree.”

Hugh Kight, principal of West Laurens High School in Dublin, admitted that the role of volunteers at his school has been somewhat limited in the past but something he’d like to see grow.

 

Plan it out

“A student here died last year and church members came out and served as counsellors, which was really helpful,” he said. “We’ve had pastors serve as mentors to students and youth pastors have lunch with the kids. Churches volunteer to operate the concession stand during football season

“After school tutoring is something that could really help us. Some kids can’t afford to hire tutors and that would be a good service for the schools. In our district, a lot of students have a hard time even thinking of coming up with those funds.”

As in any case of working with students, leaders say safety would be important. Also, preparation and perhaps some training of volunteers is advised.

Pleasant Grove Baptist Church

Chris Pritchett, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Bowman, stands with R.V. Brown, chaplain for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brown was a guest speaker at one of the church’s 12th Man banquets.

Alexander has a staff member specifically assigned with working with volunteers. Being intentional in planning and implementing goes a long way toward success, he says.

“You have to be coordinated. You don’t want folks showing up with nothing to do. People want to be useful. We used volunteers during field day last year and they practically ran that.”

Alexander has a pool of about 35 parents who volunteer. In addition, some retired teachers and local business leaders even chip in at the school where 54% of the student body is classified as economically disadvantaged. Those wanting to help attend a basic 40-minute training session that illustrates the ins and outs of being in the public school system. The bulk of Lewis Frasier’s volunteers come from nearby Fort Stewart.

“People who don’t have a child can volunteer,” Alexander added, “but with safety issues, we want to be familiar with them and make sure they’re safe to be around kids.”

“Volunteers would obviously contact the front office so we could get background information on them,” Biser said. “They get on a list and when we need help we give them a call. We never put someone working with a student alone. There’s always a secretary or teacher present. We also want to give volunteers something they want to do. We don’t want them doing just anything.”

Three years ago members of First Baptist Church in Forest Park took a more direct approach by establishing an after school program where third-through-fifth graders are given refreshments and some personal help with homework. Pastor Reed Crumbliss said there is also recreation time and a periodical Bible study. On Fridays, a police officer comes to speak about substance abuse and being a part of the community.

“We want to build relationships and get more involved in the community,” said Crumbliss. “It’s important to us to not just get to know the children and their teachers, but their parents.”

Church member Ann Lee is in her second year directing the program. Providing children opportunities for success is a driving force, she added.

“These students are struggling and can’t afford a tutor, so we work with them on their homework and stay in contact with their teachers. If they’re falling behind, I’ll ask for some extra work as well. We have a file where we keep track of their grades and progress. Grades have gone up.

“This also keeps them off the street or from having to go home to an empty house. It gives their parents a peace.”

Forest Park’s program also incorporates trips to the library. Students struggling with English get time reading to an adult. Monthly birthday parties are held. A cooking class and community service project to the homeless are in the works for this year.

“This is an all-volunteer thing,” said Crumbliss. “We start after Labor Day to give teachers a month to determine which children would benefit most from the program. From that point the child and parents determine if they want to be involved. There are about 25 volunteers who help.

“At the end of the year we have a volunteer appreciation banquet. Parents are invited to see their children conduct a program and serve the food. The kids really get into it. This past spring we had nearly 100 people at it.”

That relationship – church, parents, teachers – is what Pritchett hopes to see cultivated that ultimately will benefit students, adding that he’d be open to offering training.

“My biggest desire is to see churches involved. If people will get in there and serve, it gets things rolling.”

Scott Barkley/Index

Susan Buice, a senior English teacher at Cherokee High School, cleans a board in the days leading up to the first day of school. Teachers can use the help of volunteers throughout the year, say principals, through ways such as making copies or helping monitor students.

Scott Barkley/Index

Principal Nicole Holmes of Liberty Elementary School in Canton, standing, meets with her assistant principals, left to right, Vicky Thom, Jonie Smith, and Beth Long. “When you have a vested interest in your community everyone benefits. It’s a win-win,” said Holmes.