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7/30/97 Volunteer touts critical need for Christians in public schools

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Gussie Tonne taught in the public schools for 23 years, but when she talks about the importance of Christians volunteering their time to help children and teachers, she speaks with the fervor of an evangelist.
“We need to re-Christianize America,” Tonne, of Belleville, Ill., said. “Cooperation between churches and schools is needed to make schools once again community schools. We have public schools that are saying, ‘Come help us.'”
Tonne, a member of the Southern Baptist Educators Fellowship, led a conference on churches and public schools during the Jericho Southern Baptist Missions Festival, July 26-Aug. 1, at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center.
She described how St. Paul’s Catholic Church and Westview Baptist Church in Belleville have provided facilities and volunteers for two inner-city schools.
St. Paul’s began by offering their gym to Franklin School so its students could participate in the city basketball league. Church members then provided shoes and uniforms. Members also assisted the parents’ association in renovating a former crack house and then a second building which became a computer center after another volunteer wrote a successful grant application for 20 computers.
At nearby Union School, Westview Baptist, at the invitation of the principal, provided volunteer grandparents to “adopt” students for the annual Grandparents Day. Next, GAs and Acteens held a lunch and Easter egg hunt for students and their mothers. Each child received clothes and shoes and each mother took home a box of groceries. A clothing closet for students followed and then volunteers went into classrooms to read to the children.
Results have included higher student test scores and increased involvement of neighborhood children and their families in the churches.
At Westview, the children’s choir grew from eight to 40. “Every time the children sing, the parents come to the church,” Tonne said.
Acknowledging that some administrators don’t want the public coming into their schools as volunteers, Tonne said “the community has to help in softening up the administrators.”
Christian lawyers can be a valuable resource to educate administrators what is and is not allowed in the schools, she said.
Options for involvement in public schools are only limited by creativity, Tonne said. Suggestions included:
— assist students with math drills;
— work with computers;
— assist with research and special projects;
— teach music, art or sports/games classes in schools that do not have paid teachers for the tasks;
— supervise playgrounds;
— provide magazines such as National Geographic;
— staff or assist in school libraries; and
— share personal experiences of travel, world events, earlier times.
“Teachers appreciate volunteers who can share firsthand experiences about the Depression, World War II or Vietnam,” Tonne said.
She also suggested that churches offer their facilities for special events such as concerts.
“When parents have been in your church even for a school event, they will think of you when they have a spiritual need,” Tonne said.
She listed eight necessities for a successful school ministry:
1) Enthusiastic leader who believes in children and their worth and who can inspire others. “The leader must believe children can improve.”
2) Receptive school.
3) Written orientation materials for volunteers with clearly stated parameters.
4) Types of assistance that match the skills of volunteers.
5) Vote by the church to start and maintain the ministry for the long term; regular reports and recognitions.
6) Provide uniforms such as a polo shirt for volunteers, preferably in the school’s colors, with identity such as “Friends of _____ School.”
7) Learn and follow insurance requirements for the ministry.
8) Expect eventual increased expenses for children/youth activities at the church.
9) Continually promote the ministry.
10) Bathe all plans, activities and persons in prayer.
“God works in the most marvelous ways,” Tonne said. “Bathe the ministry in prayer and you’ll get into that school in ways you never thought possible.”
Jericho is sponsored by the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board, Sunday School Board and Woman’s Missionary Union.

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  • Linda Lawson