When South Carolina schools dropped on the Nation’s Report Card from 39th to 47th place in literacy, the South Carolina Baptist Convention realized something must change. A major indicator of a child’s success in life is the ability to read on their grade level by the time they complete third grade. Recognizing this, the state convention developed the Heart4Schools Initiative.
With an understanding that prayer is essential in creating change, churches are making a concentrated effort through Heart4Schools to have special prayers for the schools in their area. Currently, the state convention is working with more than 200 Baptist churches who are involved in the program. Church members and the community volunteer their time and talents to provide resources for students, teachers and schools.
The state’s Department of Education has identified three critical areas where additional resources would be most helpful
Reading Mentors: volunteers provide one-on-one time with students to make certain they are reading at grade level by the third grade.
Teacher Support Teams: work to reduce the stress of teaching by providing meals, snacks, classroom supplies and gifts of appreciation throughout the year.
Backpack Buddies: provides food packets for food insecure students on weekends. Students from low-income homes receive free breakfast and lunches at school. However, they may return to homes where there is no food on the weekend.
Melanie Ratcliffe, Heart4School strategist for the SCBC, encourages churches to adopt local schools. Trained volunteers and resources are needed.
“One thing we have learned by partnering with schools is that teachers are not just educators, but counselors, coaches and advocates for our children,” Ratcliffe said. “We encourage churches to walk alongside teachers to encourage and support these efforts so that every child can be successful.”
Can you imagine the impact we could have on the schools our children and youth attend if church members would be committed to pray? Across South Carolina, there are 2,138 Southern Baptist churches, according 2017 data, with approximately 619,525 members. Prayer not only changes things; it changes those who pray.
Have you ever thought about where and from whom your child will learn values? Chad Stillwell, the SCBC’s director of Collegiate Ministry, said, “Someone will reach the next generation. It will either be the church with the gospel, or the peddlers of the false beliefs of our day. Reaching students always begins with prayer.”
Stillwell knows the first few weeks of school are critical, especially for college students. He suggests that churches set aside August as a dedicated month of prayer for students as they and their teachers or professors are returning to school campuses.
Allison Bardin, SCBC Evangelism Team assistant, asked, “Can you imagine what a difference it would make if every church went into a school?”
“If we are going to be faithful shepherds — if we’re going to care well for the people God has brought to our churches — then being a good steward of their trust means knowing what to do and how to respond to represent Christ,” said Don Hansen, music minister at First Baptist Church, Myrtle Beach.
Hansen has seen the difference Heart4Schools makes in relationship building between teachers and parents.
“We have about 200 mentors from our congregation and other churches in our area, plus the fire and police departments. Community support for this initiative is strong. One event is the ‘Back-to-School’ Prayer Walk, where we meet and walk as a group from the football stadiums up to the front doors of all five schools. God has sent us great things at Myrtle Beach.”
People hear about Heart4Schools by word-of-mouth, Facebook and emails. Through orientation for Reading Buddies, volunteers meet the school staff and hear their stories. Parents realize this is not charity, and each student and teacher benefits — not just those at risk.
Hansen, like others, believes that to make a difference in the long-term cycle of poverty, the only way to break that cycle is to intervene through prayer and actions.
— Carolyn Tomlin writes for numerous Christian magazines and newspapers. She teaches the Boot Camp for Christian Writers.