First Baptist Church of North Augusta has been serving Clearwater Elementary for two years and is starting its third. Dena Riley, the Pastoral Care Minister, has faithfully coordinated volunteers from the church to go in weekly and read with first graders who are having difficulty reading. She pairs each student with an adult for extra reading practice. The student benefits from the extra reading time, but also from the extra attention from an adult. “Many students struggle to read because they lack security, confidence and positive reinforcement. Time with a caring adult who gives them undivided attention goes along way. Just spending 30 minutes a week can change the trajectory of a child’s life,” says Melanie Ratcliffe, Evangelism Strategist at the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
South Carolina found itself in a crisis when the Read to Succeed Act took effect in 2017. The law states that every third grader not reading on grade level would have to be retained. According to the Post and Courier, 18,295 third graders scored “Does Not Meet” or “Not Met” on 2016-2017 SC Ready ELA testing (The Post and Courier, October 3, 2017). Clearwater Elementary was concerned in regard to the number of students not reading on grade level, so in the spring they moved 75% of First North Augusta’s volunteers to read with third graders who were struggling. Riley wasn’t sure what impact they could have with such little time, but trusted the Lord to do the work. The result? By the end of the school year EVERY third grader in Clearwater Elementary had passed! Riley excitedly adds, “God multiplied our efforts. It was Divine power that did it!”
A third grade teacher at the school, Kathy Doolittle, was one who benefited from the help from one of the volunteers. She stated, “Personally, the greatest impact I witnessed from the program was the volunteer who came to my classroom. She (Toni Seals) built personal relationships with my third graders by talking to them, reading with them and listening to them. She volunteered at least three days a week. After the first month, students were asking to use their free time, lunch time, or recess minutes to read or work with her. They loved having her to help them with their remediation and practice. The confidence, enthusiasm, and success they shared and the reflection of her support was heartwarming. It was evident that even when she wasn't there, she prayed for them, for me, and for our school.”
Not only do the volunteers read with the children, but they also support the school in many other ways. They provide hygiene kits for fourth and fifth graders to assist the nurse in teaching the children health education. They volunteer at many of the family involvement events, buy special request items for the teachers, and pray at the flag pole every Wednesday morning. Another way the church supports the school is by providing school supplies for every student. During VBS the church distributes a list of needed supplies and collects them each day as a game between the boys and girls. “The kids get so pumped!” says Riley. They set a goal of 1,000 supplies this year and far exceeded it by collecting 2,000 supplies. They then bag them up and transport those to the school which are then given out during school registration. The church volunteers set up a table, sort the supplies by grade level, and talk
with the families as they get their supplies. “The support is a true blessing! Members were present with smiles and well wishes handing out school supplies to families,” says Doolittle. “First North Augusta is a beautiful display of Christ’s love in a community often neglected. They sacrificially give of their time and resources to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Churches like this, no matter the size, can make a huge impact on a community,” says Ratcliffe.
The past two years the church has been building respect and trust with the faculty, staff, and school administrators. Riley says, “The teachers have become more comfortable with us, and know we are going to be there, therefore have slowly come forward communicating their needs.” One of those requests came when a family did not have the means to provide clothes for a child in need. The teacher felt comfortable in reaching out to Riley for help. She was able to provide clothes and shoes for the child and his younger sibling. He was so grateful. He wrote Riley a note of thanks for the clothes and in the handmade note he writes, “P.S. I love the Sketchers.” She keeps that on her desk as a reminder. “Every child deserves hope. Despite a stressful situation in a child’s life, he saw that someone cared,” says Ratcliffe.
A teacher at a different school recently said to Riley, “Would you please find someone to give hope in my school?”
“If you are thinking about getting started at a school in your town, know that there are so many ways to get involved. Many schools are willing and wanting churches to help. Each individual school has different needs and by building trust you can learn what those needs are,” Ratcliffe emphasized. For more information on how to get started volunteering in a local school, visit www.heart4schools.org.