Friday, November 6, 2009

Church, school leaders join together to help all succeed

North Carolina Anson County's faith and education leaders are joining together with the goal of helping all students in the county achieve and succeed. At a breakfast Saturday morning at Kesler Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church in Wadesboro, about 25-30 local pastors and bishops gathered with Michael McLeod, executive director for individual and organizational accountability for the Anson County school system and also pastor of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, to discuss ways the local faith community can help students better succeed in school. McLeod is leading the effort, along with Pastor Iris Tillman of the Church of God of Prophecy in Morven and Pastor Dannie Williamson of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

"Our slogan is 'All Means All,'" McLeod explained. "That means all of our students will succeed, and all of our community will be involved." In a brainstorming session, McLeod said he, Tillman and Williamson decided what better place to start than with the local churches. "We've come together to find out how we can better serve the community," Tillman said. "We're spreading throughout the county. We hope to help bring changes to the environment in our schools."

Matt Walton, pastor at First Baptist Church of Wadesboro, stated that he'd been wanting to get more involved with the local school system, but this group beat him to it. "You've answered my prayers," he said. Tillman told the audience that she has been a volunteer in the schools for more than 30 years, and is often called to schools if a parent cannot make it to discipline a child who is a member of her church. "It's one thing to sit around and talk about what needs to be done and another to do what needs to be done," Tillman said. She related stories of helping her grandson to decide not to join a gang, and how she helped a fifth-grader who was about to be kicked out of school— by having him do manual labor at her home. That child is now a senior in high school.

She also pointed out that many believe that prayer is no longer in schools, but that is not true. "If children want to pray, nobody can stop them," she said. "The doors to our schools are being opened to us to allow us to talk to kids. We, as a faith-based community, need to be involved in the school system." Tillman said that many schools in the county need volunteers to help give teachers a break during the day, volunteers to read to students, cafeteria workers and so on.

Buz Parks of the Anson Baptist Association pointed out that he foresees a wall between people wanting to help and not knowing exactly what to do. He stressed the need for an orientation for church members to get involved in volunteering. "Many are intimidated," he said. "They're afraid they're going to say or do something to embarrass themselves." Tillman, McLeod and Williamson plan to organize training sessions for volunteers and hope to get church-based volunteers and pastors into the schools early next year.

George Senter of Faith Baptist Church was surprised to learn that it's OK for pastors to visit members of their congregation in school. Tillman responded that she'd gotten parents' permission to be able to visit the children in school.

The training for volunteers will be organized soon, McLeod said. "We will have detailed job descriptions," he explained. "This [breakfast meeting] was to let you know we're coming to you. It will be systemized; this is a strategic plan." By February, he added, the community as a whole will be aware of what the faith leaders are doing.

[by Abby Cavenaugh]

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