Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colorado has had a good relationship with one of our neighborhood elementary schools for several years. We have done backpack drives, school improvement days, given funds and assisted occasionally with teacher appreciation and one time events such as field day. This relationship further developed last year when a couple of our pastors and I took a week long, Neighborhood Transformation (NT) training with Stan Rowland. I volunteer at our church in numerous ways and decided to take this training to further my knowledge on local outreach.
At the time, I did not know where God would lead me, but that soon became clear. A couple weeks after the training, our Local Outreach/Community Pastor asked me if I would consider leading our NT team. I prayed about this and felt that God was calling me to lead this with the training that I had received. The most encouraging aspect at this time was that some of our pastors had a great relationship with the principal at this school, so we already had a strong connection. The principal had recently received grant money and was able to hire a family resource coordinator to work at her school. This is where I connected and developed a strong relationship as we started this past school year of 2010-2011.
The harder part about taking on leadership of this team was that there was no team. I was given a list of emails of some people that had helped in the past. However, when I emailed them all to see who would be interested in being a part of our team, I only received some minimal interest from about 3 people. I started meeting with the family resource coordinator to learn more about the school and what programs we could help with. Soon after this, God brought my co-leader to the team through her interest in a totally different area of service. As the staff met with her, they felt that she would be a wonderful person to co-lead with me.
We all met, and she came on board. It is such a blessing to have her lead the team with me, as there was much work to do, and no team yet. Throughout the year, we have received interest from people off of our church website, announcements in our weekend program and a service night at our church. Fortunately, we are part of a very large church, and we have a team list of about 60 people now. I would say the core team that shows up to our meetings is around 30, but we also have others from our list help with events when they can. We also have a list of Spanish speaking people from our church, and any time we need translation help for the school, we go to this list. That is a little background on our team before moving onto the school and our work there.
The family resource coordinator and principal have what would be a simple goal for many schools, but is very difficult at their school – to have kids at school, on time, ready to learn. This school faces many challenges as most of the families live below the poverty line. The school does not have the resources that are available to other schools in our county. The school also deals with a lot of unexcused absences, late arrivals and behavioral problems. Some of the basic challenges facing the school are: • 85% of the students live below the poverty level • 2 out of every 10 students qualify for homeless student services • 50% of the students are learning English as a Second Language • 25% of the students struggle with transitory issues related to poverty
We started our partnership with some simple programs that the leadership had ideas about incorporating, but could not do without some outside help. Our team has worked with the staff and PTA to accomplish these projects, and we have seen amazing results. This is an amazing community with so many strengths, and we are really seeing the commitment that families have to their school as we move forward.
We created an award program for students who have no absences, no tardy slips and no pink slips for behavioral issues. The awards are given out at assemblies every two months, and the parents are invited to see their children receive the award. They are given a special certificate and a small bag with two healthy snacks, a chapter book and fun pencils and small school supplies. The main goal was simply to get the children to school, on time and ready to learn. Another goal was to increase parent involvement in their children’s education. Amazing results have followed from this one program. • The school has gone from last place in attendance in Boulder County to first place in one year’s time (improved by 42%) • They boast of a 95% attendance record for this year • Positive behavior at the school has increased by 50% in the past year • Parent involvement has increased as parents have stepped into the school to be involved in their children’s recognition • Kids are on-time and tardy slips have reduced significantly
A couple of other programs that have been put in place have been working incredibly well too. Our church gives backpacks full of supplies at the beginning of the year for families who cannot afford them. This year, the Family Resource Center set up a “Time and Talent” program for these backpacks. Every family that accepted a backpack, agreed to give two hours of their time back to school in some form of volunteer work. As of January, 100% of parents had completed this commitment.
We set up a clothing closet where parents can come in and get items that they really need for their kids, such as shoes, boots and jackets. The goal of this program is not to just give out items that are needed, but to also give the family resource coordinator time with the parents – to connect with them about their children while they are there. This is another area where parents can give their time and talent in exchange for needed items.
See Installment 2 for spreading Neighborhood Transformation Beyond the School.