Across North Carolina, congregations are mentoring, tutoring, and otherwise supporting their local schools, providing a model of partnership between communities of faith and public education.
Congregations for Children (C4C) is an initiative of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina focused on partnering with public schools to help children living in poverty. Started in the Harbor District in 2013, it has since expanded across the state.
C4C has three areas of focus:
- Improving K-3 literacy rates
- Providing basic resources to meet student needs (food, clothing, school supplies)
- Increasing parent involvement and positive interactions with adults
Background: United Methodist Church in North Carolina
The United Methodist Church (UMC) in North Carolina is divided into 16 districts in two conferences, the North Carolina Conference (eastern half) and the Western North Carolina Conference.
The United Methodist Church started Congregations for Children after their annual conference in June 2013. At the conference, then State Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson spoke about the need for partnerships to help public schools around issues of child poverty, especially literacy. Bishops Ward and Goodpaster also spoke to building deeper relationships with schools, going beyond offering supplies or food.
Now, approximately 83 percent of the 800 plus churches in the North Carolina Conference are involved with C4C in some way. District C4C coordinators provide coaching, training, and assistance to churches throughout the partnership development process.
A small church in South Warren County described their experience with C4C:
“Our community is rural. The school system is not strong. According to NC DPI report card, racial makeup is majority African American followed by Caucasian, then Native American. Our congregation is white and varies economically and politically. We work closely by providing school supplies, food for backpack buddies, and food at the end of the school year.”
Improving K-3 literacy skills
Congregations involved in C4C work with their local schools to improve literacy for children from kindergarten to third grade by donating books, tutoring, running summer reading camps, and running after school programs.
Susan Pennock, Head of C4C in the Western Conference, described their literacy work:
“When doing initiatives, the goal is to have the school work with the church and develop something for the volunteers that works with what the school is doing. However that school monitors reading, we use the same system. We have taught the churches the basics in evaluating reading.”
Epworth UMC in Durham started an after-school tutoring program with their local school. Using the Augustine method for teaching literacy, they have seen improved reading scores with the children who attend their tutoring program.
Cedar Grove UMC in Pittsboro has a membership of only 20 congregants, but they provide a summer literacy camp every summer for students from Perry H. Harrison Elementary School.
Meeting basic needs
C4C helps schools meet students’ basic needs. Congregations provide school supplies, clothing, and food for students.
In the Blue Ridge District, churches provide meals in the summer for eligible students across 16 different sites. They have grown from under four percent of eligible children receiving summer meals to 20 percent.
Food backpacks are another way that C4C provides for students. Mt. Sylvan UMC in North Durham works with three elementary schools and one middle school, providing 200 backpacks of food per week. They collaborate with other churches to produce various fruits for the students.
Increasing parent involvement and positive adult role models
C4C’s third area of focus is increasing parent involvement and interactions with positive adult role models. One way they do this is through a program called Watch D.O.G.S.
Watch D.O.G.S. stands for Dads of Great Students. Through this program, men in the congregation volunteer at their local schools. They assist teachers, tutor students, and help with classroom activities, among other activities.
This program aims to provide positive male role models for students and an extra set of eyes and ears to help with school security and reduce negative behavior like bullying.
Best practices in church/school partnerships
At the 2017 C4C Summit this past August, Pat Litzinger from the Harbor District outlined best practices in creating church and school partnerships.
- Turn on the “light bulbs” of awareness before asking members to participate. In other words, it is important to teach the congregation about child poverty before asking them to get involved.
- Go to the principal’s office. Litzinger stressed that good partnerships are formed when C4C members meet with the principal in person and ask what the highest priority needs are at that school.
- Do not promise anything you cannot deliver. Litzinger emphasized how over-promising and under-delivering can destroy trust between schools and churches.
- Communicate. Every C4C program needs a team coordinator and a point of contact at the school.
- Share and celebrate accomplishments with the congregation. This can be done using videos, pictures, notes of thanks, guest speakers, etc.
C4C is looking to grow and create more meaningful relationships between congregations and schools.
Mark Andrews from the Metro District is working to create a strong C4C presence in his district with Pennock. He hopes to develop the relationship beyond meeting the basic needs of the school to address deeper issues surounding the realities of poverty.
In the Blue Ridge District, Beth Crissman is in the process of mapping out all initiatives to ensure there is no part of their ministry that is not active in C4C. Looking forward, she is hoping to move beyond elementary schools because issues of poverty and literacy do not disappear in fifth grade.
As Pennock stated, “We still have a long way to do. We are on the brink of something great, just need an extra push.”