School Improvement – ABCD Style

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There’s an elementary school near my church. None of the kids who attend our church go to this school, and our church doesn’t have any relationship with the school. (We do have a strong relationship with another elementary school that is one mile from the church.)

When I think about asset based community development in our neighborhood, this school always pops into my head.

What if our church wanted to expand our ministry to elementary-aged children in our neighborhood, and we decided to make this school the focus of our mission efforts? How would we go about this? I imagine two scenarios in my head.

In the first, a task force meets to discuss this new missional effort. A person is chosen to meet with the Principal of the school, or possibly the Counselor, to discuss what is needed. The missions team probably has a few ideas of their own, based on their observations of the campus (i.e. a landscaping effort or new playground equipment). They might offer assistance in these areas, or offer familiar support items (i.e. school supplies, school uniforms, teacher appreciation, scholastic incentives). Once a relationship with the school is established, the team solicits items or volunteer hours from church members. A collection is taken to help fund the effort, and the church successfully expands our ministry to elementary students. Throughout the year, an effort is made to invite students and families to participate in Trunk or Treat, Advent events, and Vacation Bible School.

This is a typical model for church engagement with a community organization: a small number of people from our church have personal contact with a small number of people from the organization. A small group of people decides what is to be done, and they leverage the giving power of the church to provide what is needed to fill the need for the organization.

But what if we took an asset based community development approach? In my head, the second scenario looks like this: A task force from our church meets to discuss our desire to engage in ministry with this school. At least two people, one staff and one lay person, schedule a meeting with the Principal, the Counselor, and the PTA President, to listen to their ideas of what the school needs and how the church might be able to help. The church members ask if the children could also be involved in this conversation by submitting their ideas of what is needed to make their school better. All of the ideas are considered, and three are chosen and approved by the Principal as suitable projects.

The children are given an opportunity to vote on which of the three projects they would like to see happen. They choose to improve the look of their school by installing new flower beds and benches in the front of the school. They are then asked to help make it happen by participating in an Art Show and Auction. Task force members meet with the art teacher to solicit his or her assistance in helping the students create art for the show.

Task force members also attend meetings of the local neighborhood association to explain about this project and invite them to participate in the art show. Church members are recruited to help organize the show, frame the artwork, advertise in the community, and prepare a punch and cookies reception at the school on the night of the auction. A local artist is invited to make some remarks at the show and award prizes.

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The night of the show, many church members and many people who live in the neighborhood, who have never been inside this school, come to view the artwork and offer their support. Parents come, too, bringing their children. They talk with the proud artists and ask them about their work. And church members, community members, and parents make donations for the artwork they choose to bring home. Church members work alongside PTA members to provide hospitality and handle the financial transactions. Enough money is raised to pay for the project. A date is assigned for the work to be done, and church members, neighborhood members, and school parents work together to beautify the school. The students see the improvements and they know that they chose this project and they helped make it happen. In this model, the community comes together to work with the children to bring this dream to reality.

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This second scenario is more time-consuming; it’s more difficult; and it requires the church to give up more control of the missional effort. But it’s also community-building; more rewarding; and it helps create relationships that reap benefits for all.

It’s just a little dream of mine. What about you? Can you imagine the benefits of asset based community development in your context? What is your dream for your community?

Prayer Focus: Pray for schools that have too many needed projects and too few budget dollars.

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