Churches look to mentor more in Lafayette schools

Task force plans to promote faith and character initiative in Lafayette schools

In the past year, local churches adopted 12 Lafayette Parish schools as part of a new faith and character task force initiative to support the school system.

The goal in the next year is to double school adoptions and implement more mentor and character development programs in schools, said Bobby Richard, pastor of Hope Alive Freedom Church and a faith and character task force leader.

The task force met Wednesday at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church to wrap up its work of the past school year and set goals for the upcoming one.

The task force is more than 100 members strong, representing more than 50 churches. The interdenominational initiative also has drawn interest from other school districts, and Richard said the group’s next step might be to help other school systems start similar partnerships.

In the past year, the task force has set up a handbook for churches interested in becoming involved that includes information on how to approach a school principal, defines acceptable ways to assist the schools and also provides a uniform memorandum of understanding between the church and school.

Church volunteers are told they aren’t allowed to use their cell phones and can’t transport students. They also are told not to start religious conversations while doing volunteer work on the campus.

Richard said the volunteers’ role is not to preach with their words, but through their actions.

“Our ministry is our presence,” Richard said. “We are carriers of something good.”

Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper thanked the group for its partnership with local schools and asked task force members for their prayers as the district begins its budget process. The school system faces a $12 million shortfall.

He credited the task force for being part of positive change in the district and for responding to the individual needs of schools.

“This is probably the best thing we’re doing,” Cooper said.

Sts. Peter and Paul’s congregation has adopted Scott Middle School, where volunteers recently helped honor the school’s teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

The church plans to become more involved in the school in the new school year, said the Rev. Tom Voorhies, the church’s pastor. Scott Middle is located down the street from the church and nearby is the church’s own school, which it started in 2008.

“We’re here to serve. It’s a neighborly love relationship,” Voorhies said. “A lot of our kids are in the public schools, as well, so we’re serving them, too.”

Richard said there are four ways churches can engage with schools: service projects, mentoring students, providing character enrichment programs and planning big events for the campus.

Richard said the first step is to meet the principal and ask what the school’s three greatest needs are and how volunteers from the church community can help meet those needs.

For some schools, volunteers helped with painting, mowing grass or helping to greet students on the first day of school. Other volunteer groups have helped by donations of uniforms, books and school supplies.

Katharine Drexel Elementary Principal Denise Soileau said volunteers provide her, as a school leader, outside perspective from the community. She said she also appreciates the individualized attention task force members give each school they adopt.

“We’ve always looked at three stakeholders: the child, the parents and the school,” Soileau said. “Now, we’re bringing in the community more. The most positive thing is that it’s individualized with them asking each school principal, ‘What can we do for you?’”

Richard said the goal is to increase the task force’s own membership and expand involvement in schools. It also will start teaching a character enrichment curriculum available through the Rotary Club at its adopted schools.

Adopted schools are: J.W. Faulk Elementary, Katharine Drexel Elementary, Evangeline Elementary, Ridge Elementary, Westside Elementary, Broussard Middle, Scott Middle, Judice Middle, Northside High, Comeaux High, Acadiana High and Lafayette High.

Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau asked the group during its meeting to consider adopting Alice Boucher Elementary and Lafayette Middle School. Both schools could use additional community support, as could Faulk, she told the group.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter @Marsha_Sills.