Faith-based volunteers help school turnaround program

A group of interfaith churches and faith-based organizations met Tuesday to organize a plan to volunteer in Lafayette Parish public schools as mentors and tutors in support of the district’s turnaround plan.

The goal is to help “every child have a fighting chance at success,” said Carlos Harvin, pastor of New Beginnings Christian Church. Harvin is also on the board of the Lafayette Charter Foundation, a group that has applied to operate a Lafayette charter school in 2014.

“We can’t do what we want to do with all of our children if we don’t have you,” Superintendent Pat Cooper told the group.

The volunteer involvement could make a difference for students who don’t have positive adult influences in their lives, Cooper told the gathering.

A few months ago, Cooper met with a group of ministers who were interested in learning about ways they could support the turnaround plan, which includes recommendations by task force groups to improve the district’s state accountability rating to an A by 2018.

The district is rated a B, though at the time of the plan’s development, it was rated a C.

The multidenominational group has organized as a faith-based and character development task force, and its outreach plan will be rolled into the district’s turnaround plan, Cooper said.

The group attending the Tuesday meeting included people from about 20 churches.

The group may model its partnerships after a successful program based in the Dallas Independent School District that partners churches with schools to provide mentors, life skills and character-building programs and other activities.

The Dallas program’s message focuses on no drugs, no gangs, staying in school and sexual abstinence.

Some churches already have relationships with their neighborhood schools and provide volunteers or help with campus projects.

In the past, Lafayette Parish school principals sometimes held the church groups at bay when they tried to help, and in some cases, the response was likely justified, Jay Miller, pastor of The Family Church, said.

“For years and years … our goal was to put a Bible in every (student’s) bookpack,” Miller said.

At times, the fervor of some churches’ offers to give free Bibles or bus rides to faith-based after-school activities may have been a bit “scary” for administrators, Miller admitted.

This movement is different, he said.

“We understand that relationships needs to be built . ... Now, it’s about love and relationships. Who cares who gets the credit? Let’s just fix the problem,” he said.