Second Chances Month!
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Education has long been viewed as a key to success. Neighborhoods are judged as more or less desirable based on the quality of their schools. Depression-era parents sacrificed to send children to school, hoping an education would lead to a job. Black parents during the civil rights movement of the 1960's encouraged their children to get a college education as a way to succeed in spite of discrimination. Even with escalating tuition costs, some type of post-high school training is still widely considered the best route to a good job. Federal and state lawmakers regularly debate funding formulas and policy decisions aimed at making education accessible to every child.
How does education affect the Church, and how does it become compassionate ministry? In some suburban communities and small towns, social life revolves around school programs and sports events, and nearly everyone in town participates with pride. For other communities, however, the reality of school means low test scores, high drop-out percentages, violence, and a struggle to attract and retain good teachers. Teachers, for their part, often feel overwhelmed even in the best of schools; they face evaluations based on the test scores of students with challenges beyond the teacher's control; they incorporate IEP's to meet a staggering number of individual special needs; they work much longer hours than the school day itself; and they invest their own money into professional development or advanced degrees to retain certification, often for salaries lower than comparably-educated professionals earn in the private sector. Some communities take pride in being home to a prestigious college or beloved state university, and yet those same campuses must work to address problems of sexual violence and alcohol abuse among their students.
There are several key areas in which the local church can show their communities that they care about students and teachers--particularly those in challenging circumstances. Resources and ideas presented here fall into four main categories: Supporting local public schools and teachers; ministering to area college students; providing ESL classes for immigrants and refugees; and encouraging basic functional literacy for citizens of their communities.
Local public schools face a constant challenge to operate within budget, to retain quality teachers, and, increasingly, to provide support services for children from disadvantaged or dysfunctional neighborhoods or home environments. Churches can do much to support the schools in their neighborhoods and to show appreciation and encouragement to teachers and staff, and several ministry groups have developed specific resources:
Some colleges and universities have a variety of campus-based ministries to conduct outreach and provide opportunities for Christian students to find fellowship. As U.S. society becomes increasingly secularized, these ministries face increased restrictions and can benefit from strong relationships with churches in the area. Students also benefit from the multi-generational fellowship of a local church in addition to campus ministry among their peers. Some campuses, particularly community colleges and trade schools, do not have ministry groups, and are thus a mission field for the church to provide facilities and opportunities for discipleship and fellowship.
Resources for ministry to college students:
International students are a mission field right here in the United States: What an opportunity to impact other countries, as students who come for an education find Christ through campus ministries or interaction with Christian students who attend caring local churches, and then return home to share their faith! Several resources are available to help:
Although the question of immigration reform and immigrant status is a hotly debated political topic, most people would agree that gaining basic proficiency in English is of inestimable value in getting a job, navigating a new city, or studying for citizenship. The United States Census Bureau reported in 2014 that, although 44% of immigrants since 2000 report speaking English at home or speaking it "very well," about 13% did not speak it at all, with the remainder falling somewhere in between and influenced by other factors such as level of education. Churches that provide facilities, curriculum materials, or teachers to assist their new neighbors in learning English are showing the love of Christ in a practical way and creating opportunities to new friends to Him.
Several U.S. Missionaries work directly with ESL learners, and some offer training for churches wishing to start a ministry outreach with ESL. Contact any of these missionaries directly or call the Intercultural Ministries Department of U.S. Missions for more information:
Other resources for teaching ESL:
A surprising percentage of adults in the United States are functionally illiterate, lacking the reading skills necessary to stay informed, to function as a citizen, and to acquire and manage basic necessities--skills such as writing correct and legible correspondence, completing a job application, or understanding a contract for goods or services. A smaller percentage cannot read at all. Sometimes illiteracy is due to disability, but it is also widely attributable to circumstances, such as trauma or severe childhood illness, that have prevented success in school. Stepping in to create a second chance for these adults can make the difference in their being able to find employment and improve their sense of self-worth, vs. turning to substance abuse or spending their lives depending on public assistance.
How you or your church can help: