Churches and schools find lasting partnerships
A year ago, Tualatin Elementary School counselor Erin Gillam got a phone call asking if the school could use any help around the building. But this wasnt a parent hoping to volunteer some time in a classroom, this was Horizon Christian High School, the private religious school off Boones Ferry Road, and the student body wanted to come by and volunteer.
All 150 of them.
Tualatin and the Christian school have formed a partnership that a few years ago might have seemed impossible, a religious institution and a public school teaming up to tackle issues in the community.
But the partnership has flourished, and school leaders say they dont know what they would do without it.
It has developed into a strong community partnership, said Tualatin Principal Jamie Kingery. It is important for kids to see older students and adults giving back and thats the whole idea around it.
Students from Horizon Christian came out in the spring, volunteering to read with kids, help out in music and P.E. classes and organize games at recess.
It was a really fun day, Kingery said. It was all about serving kids. Our students loved it and got a lot of pretty cool attention from older students and our school benefited, too.
Horizon students also worked in the schools community garden, fixed broken picnic table benches, painted, cleaned and spruced up around the building.
They accomplished a lot of things that we probably wouldnt be able to do in a few years, Kingery said.
The volunteerism is part of Horizon Christians service work, which the school does regularly around the community. But the two schools have kept in touch, working together on several projects since their initial service day.
Horizon hosted a family barbecue during in-service week, feeding about 300 people at the school, and started a lunch biddy program with elementary school students, offering a chance for young students to spend time with older students.
Horizon also supports the schools backpack program on weekends. Families that need it receive a backpack with food to help them get by on days when school isnt open.
From Horizons end it is a way of giving back to the community, Kingery said. We are a school that serves our community and to have that connection where kids can see the benefits of that, hopefully it gives them the knowledge and understanding that serving the community and giving back is a really important thing.
Partnerships between churches and local schools are a growing trend across Portland, said Bill Miller, a spokesman with the Luis Palau Association, a Portland-based ministry that has worked with school-church partnerships for the past five years.
The ministrys CityServe program began in 2008 between Palau and Portland area schools, and today the organization says there are more than 250 school-church partnerships across 17 school districts in the Portland area. Seven of those schools are in Tigard-Tualatin.
For too long we as the church have been afraid of the separation of church and state issue, Palau said. We have viewed it as a line we must stay far away from.
But there are a number of things that churches and religious groups can do with schools that dont cross that line just by asking what they can do to help.
In Tigard, Metzger Elementary School shares a similar relationship with another private Christian school, Westside Christian High School in Lake Oswego.
Its a relationship that has lasted for about three years, said Brett Meyers, Westsides director of school programs.
They actually just called me about something last week, he said.
Westside is currently under construction of a new home on Pacific Highway at Highway 217, and said it wanted to form relationships with local schools nearby.
Its right in our backyard, Meyers said. And that area is underserved in general. A lot of the kids there are on free and reduced lunch programs and generally dont have the resources that out students have.
Westside performs community service across the Portland area, and has helped with several projects around the school, Meyers said.
Westside students helped build sets for drama productions, offered tutoring to students after school and put on a carnival at the school every year for the students and their families.
Over the past three years, it has really grown in scope and size, Meyers said.
Meyers said that helping out in the community is the calling for the school, and its students.
It flows right into the mission of our school, we are preparing kids for purpose, Meyers said. It gives our kids exposure to people who are less fortunate than they are and live into the mission we call them to. We expect our students to have that be a hallmark of life.
For more information about church and school partnerships, visit cityservepdx.org/schools.
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