School prayer, evolution versus intelligent design, sex education, and Christian clubs on high school campuses are issues that come up in the conservative evangelical church I grew up in when I bring up the phrase “educational reform.” When it comes to public education, Christians are known more for what they are against than what they are for. Can our generation be known for positive educational reform, dialogue on important issues, and solutions that protect religious freedom of the religious and nonreligious students and families in our country? Educational reform has more to do with students receiving an education that provides a safe environment and equal opportunity to learn in the public or private school of choice. As the church we can have a positive impact on the educational system when we work together as parents and members of our community.
A passion God has put on my heart over the last year is helping children and youth succeed academically by partnering with local schools in Portland, OR. Through the year of research, networking, and prayer I was able to launch an after-school tutoring program for middle school students through the church I serve in. We offer academic assistance, mentor relationships, and dinner on Fridays. Not only do we encourage academic success, but we also work to foster healthy relationships and self-confidence among our students while being examples of Christ’s love on a regular basis. Our program may not be the most highly attended, but I know that each student would tell you that they feel cared for and loved. A good example of a successful school-church partnership in Portland is Southlake Church and Roosevelt High School, as shown in the documentary “Undivided.” It is a story of hope and renewal from local school, church, and business leaders in a high school struggling with multiple academic, social, and family issues. To see a trailer click here: http://www.undividedthemovie.com
Roosevelt High School, Portland, OR.
City-wide school and church partnerships have been a growing trend in the Portland area because of the continuing relationships fostered from the 2008 Luis Palau Association “Season of Service” event. Though there are undoubtedly some partnerships established before then. Just this past year, the Luis Palau Association “School Partnership Network” was established to develop a database of these relationships, and help get schools and churches connected through official meetings with local School Superintendents, principals, and pastors.
Recently I met with Larry Whittlesey, executive director of the School Partnership Network, who told me about a variety of relationships that have started as a result of churches partnering with schools to help with reading programs, provide lunch buddies once a week, sponsor school supply drives, and provide after-school activities. This is beneficial because it develops relationships between generational, socio-economic, and ethnic groups. Volunteers understand the importance of not pushing their religious views on others because they desire to show love through the respect, activities, and community ownership that is fostered. Students and staff pick up on the fact they love Jesus just by the compassionate, consistent, and sacrificial actions in the school-church partnership.
I hope to keep hearing about Christians showing concern about education through becoming involved with local schools. The academic, mental, emotional, spiritual, and civic development of children is crucial to promote an empathetic, just, and healthy society. Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, our neighborhoods, and our community. Let us be known for the same!
-Andrew Kruse is currently working on church and school partnerships while studying Pastoral Studies at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, OR. He is actively involved as a leader at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins, and Central Bible Church student ministries.