Impacting Your School

A new school year is upon us and many parents want to see the best for their children.   How can people of faith influence their school and make a positive difference?  Let me share one family’s story, my own.   Not that we have all of the answers, but we have tried to be “salt and light” in a very secular public school district. 


After our children graduated from our local Christian school (the school only went up to sixth grade), we prepared to send our oldest child into the local public school with a great deal of anxiety.  Even though our local school district is excellent (the high school ranks in the top 250 schools nationally), we were really concerned about the transition.  While our school is far from perfect, we have seen our children do well academically and grow spiritually (learning how to be in the world but not of the world, how to share their faith, take a stand for what they believe). Here are some things which helped us. 


             First, watch your attitude.  It is easy for many Christians to come off as self-righteous.  Being highly educated, and a long time critic of public schools, it was very tempting to start criticizing.  I decided to follow Jesus’s example of humility.  Instead of acting like a “know it all,”  I decided to communicate a humble, servant attitude.  This opened more doors than coming off like a religious crusader.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you should compromise your convictions.   I hold very strong convictions, but I chose not to wield them like a baseball bat. 


             Second, watch your posture.  What I mean by this is, are you seeking to stand above the teacher, or are you in their face?  I found it is much more effective to come along side of the teacher and let them know you support their efforts to educate your child.  Communicate respect to the teachers and administrators.  Ask them how you can help.  Ask them what their concerns and frustrations are.  As a person of faith, we let our kids teachers know that we appreciate the difficult job they have and that we are praying for them.  In an environment where teachers are now being assaulted by parents, verbally abused for not giving little Johnny a better grade, you can stand out from the crowd, earn their respect, and have an open door to communicate your concerns for the school. 


             Third, get involved.  Join the PTA.  Volunteer to chaperone.  Go to parent-teacher nights, regardless of whether your child is doing great or not doing well.  Attend a school board meeting (especially when they are not voting on a tax increase).   This provides two benefits.  One, you get to be known to the school as someone who is supportive.  Second, it is a great way to find out what is really going on in the school. 


             Here is where the pay off comes.  When I was a pastor in Philadelphia a number of years ago, the district was considering a proposal to distribute condoms in the schools.  I immediately signed up to testify at the public hearings to express by objections to this proposal.  The school board members politely listened to my impassioned pleas as I was booed by a number of gay activists.  As I listened to other people testify, it became clear that many of us were viewed as outsiders of the system.  Since they had little knowledge of us, we had little credibility. In the end, their minds were already made up and our presentations were a waste of time.  We were seen as outside crusaders trying to storm the gates.   


             Fast forward to our experience with our local district today.  Without any hoopla we have seen God at work.  We have been able to get the Urban Family Council invited to come to the high school for the school’s involvement day to talk about abstinence (previously only Planned Parenthood was invited).  I was asked to serve on a committee to help the district deal with behavior problems and character education.  Two years ago some parents sought to remove curriculum related to the history of Christianity (under the guise of separation of church and state), and I was able to persuade the school board to keep it.  When students wanted to have “Meet at the Pole” prayer advertised in the schools, they were turned down.  We made a call to the administration and shared with them how it was perfectly legal and constitutional to advertise it, and asked a couple of other families to call as well.  The next day the decision was reversed.  Finally, we have seen the return of more balanced concerts at Christmas time because the administration knows there are Christians in the district. 


             As people of faith, we can make our public schools a better place.  My wife and I are not professional educators, just parents who love their kids and want to put our faith into action.  You can make a difference!