Five Ways to Appreciate Schools this Thanksgiving

It’s so easy to get caught up in busyness. Overcommitted, highly passionate youth workers fall into this trap everyday.

Considering cluttered calendars, cause the calendar to work for you this month.

In ten days, you’ll likely gather with those you love most to overeat and be merry. But the occasion isn’t really about feasting, football, and family. Thanksgiving is about, well, being thankful. Kind of like Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians:

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

In the days between now and Turkey Day, what are you, Mr/s. Youth Worker, most thankful for?

Now dig a little deeper.

Who/what did you overlook in the rush to find an answer? Remember, Paul says to be thankful in everything, not just what’s most obvious.

As a youth worker, here’s what I’m most thankful for this Thanksgiving:

  • Free education for the poorest kids in my youth group who cannot afford private alternatives.
  • Community partners who help equip my students to become who God created them to be.
  • Teachers, coaches, custodians, principals, secretaries, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, and PTA volunteers who align their talents and callings with mine to create an environment where youth can learn to read the Bible I’m urging them to read (the written word that’s going to transform them into the image of God), while also preparing them for college and careers.
  • The fact that I don’t have to pay or manage directly any of those teachers, coaches, custodians, principals, etc. (to say nothing of the facilities and equipment costs) out of my youth group budget.

Thank you, God, for providing an army of people within and outside the public school system to prepare my kids to walk into God’s destiny for them!

Now, what’s a proper way to express gratitude to them?

Adopt-a-School

Why not begin by committing to adopt one school within walking distance of your church building for meaningful prayer, advocacy, and service?

School adoption begins with a commitment to pray for the school, as often as your congregation or ministry prays corporately. Become a student of the school so you can pray intelligently and strategically.  Then pray that your ministry might become answers to those prayers, and the others already being prayed for and within that school. Ask God for eyes to see and hears to hear what he sees and hears, and the courage to respond.

Take the walk to the school and initiate a relationship/s. Treat everyone you meet with respect, and maintain a humble posture (Philippians 2). Nurture the relationship/s over coffee or a meal (your treat). Give them reasons to trust you by identifying felt needs and offering yourself and your ministry as a resource to help meet those needs through acts of service. Follow-through on any commitments you make (under-promise and over-deliver).  Depending on your ministry’s capacity, your engagement might remain service oriented around discrete projects, or may evolve into an ongoing presence at the school that provides supplemental programs or services that support the school’s educational outcomes.

Five Practical Suggestions

Help us brainstorm creative ways to express thanksgiving for/to schools tangibly this season (and beyond).  Here are five initial ideas.

  1. In the short week before Thanksgiving, bring breakfast to the office and teacher’s lounge one day before classes start.
  2. Learn the names of the teachers and staff and personalize letters of gratitude for their service.
  3. Invite church members to adopt school staff members for Christmas, and give them a gift that’s meaningful to them (not a free Bible and gospel tract).
  4. Make staff and teacher appreciation part of the culture of your church.  Find out if the school already has a mechanism to celebrate their effort, and enhance what already exists.  If something isn’t in place, offer to sponsor and help produce it.
  5. Sponsor a year-end award for outstanding teachers and/or students the teachers recommend.
  6. BONUS IDEA: perform an extreme makeover of the Teachers Lounge during winter or spring vacation.

What do you think? Please add your ideas in the comments.

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9 Responses to “Five Ways to Appreciate Schools this Thanksgiving”

  1. adam mclane 11/15/2011 at 7:49 am #

    Two ideas:
    1. Volunteer your church staff for 1 day per month to do service projects. (Painting, fall clean-up, etc)
    2. Free up your youth worker to be a daily, active precense on the campus. Not leading bible studies or doing lunch with students… how about 2 hours as a hall monitor or a lunch room aid or help with the security detail.

    It feels like the strongest help the church could offer would be as an organizer of people. I’d love to see churches naturally asking the question, “How can we get our people supporting the local school?”

  2. Mark Matlock 11/15/2011 at 8:22 am #

    Our church is very active with our school district. Our community has a huge cross section of very wealthy people and extremely impoverished. My wife and hundreds of others from our church volunteer as reading buddies for students. This has placed my wife on campus regularly and given us a better sense of what the school needs, not to mention her reading buddy really enjoys the extra attention of an adult. If I’m not mistaken, we went to the school district and asked how we could help rather coming up with our own ideas and presenting them. I think we are meeting some real needs.

    My dad is an architect and he builds quite a few churches. He says that his greatest challenge over the years has been convincing a city board that a church is a beneficial use of land. This is sad. Our churches should be essential to our communities!

    Some other things we do:

    1. Host Teacher Appreciation Lunches
    2. Provide Back Packs Filled with School Supplies

    Another activity a different group did around the holidays was to give teachers a construction paper “stocking” to hang on their door teachers could write a “wish list” of items they need. They were given after Thanksgiving and then during the weeks before Christmas break, as they saw needs, they wrote them down. The stockings were taken and they tried to meet as many needs as they could, making sure every teacher received something.

    The teachers were blown away when these items were delivered, and for those doing the giving, it was really fun. Lot’s of tears. Simple things, when you have a need, surface deep emotions.

  3. Chris Brooks 11/15/2011 at 10:41 am #

    Schools’ needs should dictate the response. I like idea #2 above, but the most critical piece is getting a strong relationship built with a key Administrator or Faculty member. Someone with longevity, influence, and a passion for the kiddos.

    Once that relationship is established, leverage it to assess the needs, and meet them. Mobilize your Church, small group, or homies.

    Make sure that it is a true value exchange, done with dignity. No photo-ops, no pimping it out on a blog. Do it secretly.

    REPEAT.

  4. Gabe Veas 11/16/2011 at 8:13 am #

    Schools have a plethora of resources and people that are constantly passing through their doors. One of the challenges is how to bring them together when administrators, teachers, volunteers, parents, and students are daily being pulled in a variety of directions. Creating memorable experiences that are significant for families can help create community, lift motivation, as well as provide them with a positive vision for the future. Here are some ideas that we have implemented over the years here in LA.

    STARTING OFF STRONG…
    On the first day of school we sponsor a photographer to visit the Kindergarten classes at our local elementary school. The photographer will take photos of each individual student, standing alongside their parents & new teacher. As a class lines up to take photos we turn it into a fun activity, celebrating what for many students is their first teacher. During this time we also chat with parents about the fact that they have been their child’s primary teacher and provide them with some simple ideas on how they can partner with their Kindergarten teacher during the year.

    Next, we cover the costs for 8×10 photos to be developed and framed. As an incentive to help create community and a good foundation for the year, we provide the framed photos for free to any parents who attend a parent meeting which we also facilitate. During the parent meeting we provide childcare, snacks, educational resources for families to use together, and a relevant interactive discussion on some aspect of early education. We encourage the parents to put the photo up in their home and reflect on how they are an integral part of their child’s educational team.

    Another key activity that we have done is to provide a signed thank you card by everyone in our organization, a bouquet of flowers, and gift cards to quality restaurants in the area to the local principal. We set up a meeting with the principal and provide these gifts to them on behalf of our organization and let them know that we are their number one fans and supporters. During this meeting we also ask for forgiveness for not providing tangible support, volunteers, and visible appreciation in the past. This is a key step to help establish trust and let the school know that we are here to help and be a positive influence.

  5. Chris Brooks 11/16/2011 at 9:11 am #

    I love your idea(s), Gabe. Great stuff!

    What is your primary relationship or connection with a school: an Administrator, a Teacher, a Coach? What is your relational strategy?

    CB.

  6. Gabe Veas 11/16/2011 at 9:56 am #

    Our relationships overall has been to try and build relationships with principals in order to gain access to teachers. Then as we begin to build a presence on the school, we will of course bond with certain teachers more than others. From there we will see how far we can go in terms of supporting specific classrooms.

    In a sense, as a leader, I am a gateway to the campus that can bring an array of potential volunteers. After speaking to a teacher I try to see who can be brought to the table, rather than simply bringing generic volunteers whose gifts may not be fully utilized. The fact is that in many school districts there are an array of resources and non-profit organizations available to serve, but often times families don’t take advantage of them. I could go on further on this issue, but suffice to say motivation in a largely unaddressed issue in urban schools. Thus, our strategy is to help change the culture and increase the level of initiative that students and parents take in terms of their educational goals & dreams. The photographer referenced in the previous post was one example of this. We also try to do mini-career days where we showcase professionals from different industries that most students have never been exposed, to in order to help them see the value in what they do day-to-day.

  7. Larry Acosta 11/18/2011 at 4:23 pm #

    Yesterday, Pastor Josh Chavez and I met with a principal at a high school in a VERY tough part of Long Beach, CA. We asked him how we might be able to help he and his team serve some of the families from his school. He shared that there are several families who are homeless and living out of their cars and others just in really difficult financial situations who would need food for Thanksgiving. He asked for us to help 10-15 families in need. So between Josh’s church and another generous church in Long Beach, all of these families will have the food to cook or gift certificates to buy the meal already cooked at a local grocery store. As I write this, Josh is on the phone with the administrator to arrange the drop off so this is done in a God-honoring way with great dignity, but it will be provided by the Church, God’s people going good in Jesus’ Name. The principal and staff were so grateful that we were so quick to back our “good intentions” with immediate and practical ACTION.
    The next project is to fix a broken sprinkler and to add new plants and ground cover to a muddy flowerbed at the school’s entrance…then pressure washing the school courtyard…and oh ya, the principal is very open to allowing Josh to return as “principal for a day” and to supporting Josh’s hope to one day in the new year add a church service on Sunday’s on this campus.

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