Parents in the U.S. have many choices regarding educating our kids; nevertheless, 90% of our children attend public schools.

Public schools have often been the subject of criticism, but no other institution is responsible for more care of our communities’ children.

In addition to teaching the core subjects, public schools provide food, health care, school supplies, counseling, physical activity, an introduction to the arts, social-emotional learning and transportation.

Now more than ever, our schools are asked to do more with less.

Most states have yet to return to the funding levels prior to the Great Recession in 2008, and many states are diverting much-needed funds to private schools through vouchers.

Add to the mix the increased cost of keeping our kids safe during the global pandemic, and it’s no wonder teachers are tired and weary before this school year has even begun.

Our public schools need the love and support of their communities, and the time is ripe for impactful church-school partnerships.

Many churches view involvement in their local public schools as the tangible expression of their biblical call to love their neighbor as themselves.

So, churches should start collecting school supplies and trotting them over to their nearest school, right?

Not so fast. I want to propose three guideposts for churches thinking about starting or deepening a church-school partnership.

1. Focus on the relationship.

Like any quality, lasting partnership, the focus must stay on relationship building.

Any relationship coach will tell you that the most critical aspect of any relationship is communication. Open, honest dialogue will ensure that your church’s support is a welcomed endeavor.

Through conversations with the principal, you can learn what the priority needs of the school are. Maybe the school already receives enough donated school supplies, but they need classroom resources, teaching supplies or books for the library.

Another essential element to successful relationships is boundaries.

While you are living out your call to love the community, remain aware that churches can’t proselytize, invite children to church or discuss religion during school hours. Make sure you are respecting the school’s boundaries.

Finally, relationships need trust to survive. Don’t overpromise or fail to follow through.

Starting small is still beginning, and one of the most important things a church can do is focus on one month of partnership. For example, did you know that helping a school increase school attendance in September has lasting effects on attendance the whole year?

Schools and their needs aren’t going away, so seek to be in the relationship for the long haul by starting and growing your partnership at a reasonable pace.

2. Choose wisely.

Deciding what school your church will focus support on is equally as important as how you build the relationship. Church partnerships have the potential to bring much-needed assistance, but they also can increase inequity.

To avoid deepening a community imbalance, churches should consider their capacity to serve an under-resourced school in their community.

What schools in your area are Title 1? This federal education program supports low-income students throughout the nation in schools with a 40% or higher student population in poverty. These schools need our support and would likely welcome your assistance.

Another aspect to consider is supporting traditional public schools that have a high population of children with disabilities.

The average public school has approximately 14% of its students with disabilities. However, because charter schools historically serve a disproportionately low percentage of children with disabilities, many public schools have as many as 30% of their students with a disability.

Serving these students well takes extra support, so engaging your congregation to support such schools should be a consideration.

3. Preparation is key.

Many great organizations across the country offer support for churches seeking to engage in impactful church-school partnerships.

Find out what support your denomination offers or look to organizations like Loving Houston and School Connect, to name two. While both focus on their geographic location, each offers terrific opportunities for learning on church-school partnerships.

You can also hit the books. Jake McGlothin’s The Mission-Minded Guide to Church and School Partnerships offers convenient tips from over a decade of their church-school partnership experience.

Or consider making When Helping Hurts required reading for those volunteering in your church-school partnership to discover a valuable framework for engaging with poverty.

And don’t forget your network. Find other churches in your area with school partnerships and ask them what’s worked, what hasn’t and what they wish they knew when they started.

Whether you’re just dropping off first day of school goodies for the teachers or engaging in a community-wide attendance campaign, your support matters to children, so consider developing a church-school partnership this year.

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