All children deserve good education. The knowledge they build early on can have a lasting effect on their confidence and success for the rest of their lives. Schools should be a place where their dreams are cultivated and supported. A community school system can provide such a learning environment.
Many teachers, however, are bound by the unreasonable and counterproductive constraints of their school systems. Low budgets, standardized testing and political interference often override the better judgment of people who have trained and dedicated their lives to educating children. At times, the problems can seem so vast that it may be difficult to see what a relatively small group of concerned citizens can do to help, but there are various ways to advocate for better education for children and support those who are equipped to provide it.
Acknowledging Concentrated Poverty
What goes on at home affects children and their education. Chronic issues can lead to the toxic stress that is often seen in children who live with factors common to situations of concentrated poverty:
- Food insecurity
- Parental drug abuse or addiction
- Chronic neglect
A community school system takes a whole-child approach to education. Recognizing that issues such as physical and mental health as well as social development have an impact on academic success is the first step.
Supporting Educator-Led Policy Change
Some children blossom within the traditional learning structure. They have the support they need at home, so even if particular lessons are challenging, they can develop relatively unhindered during the regular school day. Many children, however, need innovative learning opportunities. A community school with thriving after-school, weekend and summer programs can answer that need, but districts are bound by the vision of the people who lead them.
People of faith can get involved in local education policy. City council and school board meetings are often open to the public and can hear your concerns. While it may be inappropriate for the pastor to advocate for certain candidates from the pulpit, there's nothing that stops individual members from volunteering to serve campaigns or even run for open school board seats themselves. As long as you are armed with adequate knowledge of your city and what would make a great educational system possible there, teachers need all the support they can get.
Providing Support Services
Community schools are not a misnomer. Their success or failure hinges on the ability of the community to provide the support they need. One of the primary ways a church can help is by providing services that many students need to be academically successful. Whether it's by providing basics like meals or clothing or more specific types of help, your congregation can be an integral part of helping students learn.
Many churches are already set up to do this. If your church has a designated fund for people in need, you may be able to request that some of the funds be set aside for housing assistance or for medical, dental or optical care for families who cannot afford it and then partner with a school that can link you with families with those specific requirements. You can also work with a local food bank to provide nutritious food for children on weekends and during the summer. Some extended learning programs may want volunteer tutors. Look at the resources and talents available in your church, and you are likely to find ways to support the schools around you.
The community school structure is a great way to build an educational program that embraces the whole-child perspective. They support every aspect of children's lives that affects how well they are able to learn. Even if you don't work for the school district, you and your church can still make a difference in students' education.