Even as schools are still deciding what this school year may look like, students and families in our city are facing unprecedented challenges amid COVID-19 and socioeconomic concerns. “Students need a caring adult investing in their lives now more than ever,” says Pamela Smith, Little Rock School District Communications Director. With the ramifications of a difficult end to the last school year leaving many students starting behind this year, there is a critical need and opportunity for churches to come together to invest in students and families in new ways.
One LRSD school teacher, Holly Jenkins, is fearful that many students won’t return to in-person schooling in the fall and may suffer further academically. “Mentors can help with academic struggles, but can also just be a blessing in the life of a child,” says Jenkins. “Mentors only need to overcome the idea of wanting to ‘fix’ kids – if they come with a heart to serve and love students right where they are, they will be blessed and so will the students.”
While there are a number of contributing factors, an increasing number of research studies are confirming that families have the greatest impact on student outcomes. Healthy families are vital for a flourishing community, and the Church is God’s plan for developing healthy families.
The Vital Families in Schools Initiative seeks to unite and mobilize churches in our city to partner with schools to strengthen families through: family support opportunities, student mentoring, and family to family connections. Mary Carol Pederson, team leader of the initiative, shares, “As I have met with various mentoring program and church leaders, many are feeling overwhelmed with creating and maintaining their independent programs with limited results. There is tremendous opportunity for churches to make a much bigger community impact uniting together in sharing best-practice ideas, encouragement, and resources.” Mary Carol has been studying the most effective mentoring programs, gotten input and support from LRSD Superintendent Michael Poore and other leaders at the Little Rock School District, and has formed a diverse leadership team to move things forward. Many churches are expressing interest in being a part of something “bigger than themselves” that will bring transformative change to our community.
Imagine in Little Rock if every student that was struggling had a caring mentor who helped the student excel in academics, modeled and taught praiseworthy character, and provided positive connections and opportunities in the community. Imagine if every struggling family had a church family come alongside them to be a resource when needed. How would Little Rock look different in the short-term and long-term? This is the vision of Vital Families in Schools.
A summit of church and school leaders is planned for July 22. If you are interested in more information on the initiative or possibly being a part of the summit, you can contact Mary Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org.