First UMC, Alvin Coins New Meaning for “Summer School”
It’s summer, but First UMC Alvin is still “in school” with its partner: Robert Louis Stevenson Primary. In response to Bishop Huie’s challenge, the congregation “Invests in the Young” all year long.
The members of First UMC, Alvin are so excited about their new partnership with Robert L. Stevenson Primary School that they are working through the summer – even when there are no students around. “We have committee meetings throughout the summer to talk about what more we can do,” reports Jana Jarrell, who is both a church member and a school staff member. “Our principal had always wanted to do something like this, so we started with a one-month trial pairing church members with a few dozen of our pre-schoolers through second graders,” she explains. “The members loved it and the students loved it and a partnership was born!”
Pastor Jeff Hastings says the idea came from the Episcopal address from the 2012 Annual Conference. “Heeding Bishop Huie’s call for churches to partner with schools, FUMC Alvin voted unanimously to begin a partnership!”
First UMC, Alvin’s involvement brings a particularly strong positive influence for the children since Stevenson is a Title I school with over 60% of the students eligible for the free lunch/breakfast programs. Many of the students are considered to be at-risk children. Adds Pastor Jeff, “We were planning to begin a partnership early this year, however, the excitement took hold and the church couldn’t wait for 2013 to get started! For Christmas, the congregation collected over 50 pairs of shoes for the students who most needed them, and we gave a cash donation to the school to buy other clothing.” He said school principal Julie Weiss expressed gratitude by trying to describe the excitement-filled school of children who very rarely get NEW shoes.
The principal shared insight with one of the church members that added a new dimension to the partnership. “She told us that many of the children come from broken homes, or have parents who have to work jobs at odd hours, or a perhaps a parent working multiple jobs trying to provide for their family,” says Jeff. “As a result, many of the parents are not able to provide the encouragement and support for their children’s education – something that many of us take for granted.”
The four-Friday trial mentoring program was created to meet that need. The adults chatted with the children about their homework, praised them for what they have accomplished, listened to them read or they read to them, and encouraged them in as many ways as possible. “Rather than actual tutoring, they spoke words of love and hope,” he says.
As one volunteer put it, “To see the eyes of a child light up when someone says, ‘Good job!’ or ‘That is a beautiful picture!’ or similar words of encouragement is amazing. It makes it all worthwhile.”
Over the summer the pastor and two lay representatives are meeting with the Campus Improvement Committee at Stevenson to explore other ways the church can partner with the school. Pastor Jeff notes, “These are the children of our community. We want to help. We look forward to finding more ways we can assist our schools transform children’s lives.”