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At-risk children need help, church media directors told

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Churches may need to take another look at what they are all about in order to be able to make an impact on children as the 21st century approaches, a secondary schools administrator told church media librarians meeting at the Baptist Sunday School Board.
Aldorothy Wright, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, told participants in the Church Media Program National Seminar-East, March 20-22, churches “may need to redefine their vision and mission.”

America’s youth, like the immigrants welcomed to the United States, “‘long to breathe free’ amid the hopelessness that seems to plague their generation,” Wright said.

“The United States has the highest rates of child homicide, suicide and firearms-related deaths among industrialized nations. Our children are in crisis. They are an at-risk population. ”

If the past decade is any indication of what is on the horizon, she said, Americans will enter the year 2000 in a state of uncertainty about their children’s future.

“Our children are in crisis both economically and socially. Welfare reform, latchkey children, single-parent homes, teenage parents, drug and gang violence all contribute to the deterioration of society and to youth crises. All one has to do is read the newspaper, watch the news or read reports on the status of our youth to realize they are on a downhill run that doesn’t seem to have an endpoint.”

Adults cannot blame children for all the problems that confront them, she observed, “because they are not the architects of the ills that plague their lives and society. Our youth are growing up in an America where a child is abused or neglected every 26 seconds, where a child is killed by a gun every two hours. Is it no wonder that education is not a priority for some families? Is it no wonder that educators must deal with more than teaching children the basics?”

Wright said she believes schools are sometimes the only safe haven children have. “The hours a child spends in school may be the only calm, structured, productive and reinforcing hours they experience in a given day. These conditions are not the exclusive domain of the poor, but also of children of means.

“If you have children of your own, remember they need stroking, too — an encouraging word, a smile, a pat on the back can soothe a child who is in crisis when you have no idea that a crisis exists.”

In far too many cases, Wright told media library directors, the meals children receive at school — breakfast and lunch — may constitute their only source of food. When the school day ends, many children are taken to organized sports and other activities, while some go to empty homes “where they have no one to share the events of the day over milk and cookies. It is imperative that we add caring along with the academics to the curriculum if we are to make a difference in the lives of our children.”

Wright said a 1994 Gallup poll revealed that 66 percent of surveyed youth from ages 10 to 17 group showed confidence in religion. The same survey asked students to identify their role models. After parents and teachers came religious leaders, she said. “Youth are reaching out to us. It is a silent cry for help that we can ill afford to ignore,” she warned. “Children are our future. If we want to go into our golden years with a feeling of security, we need to nurture them through their period of growth and development.

“As long as drugs are on the rampage and crime continues to rise, gang activity is infiltrating our community, prisons are bursting at the seams, welfare rolls continue to burgeon, poverty and homelessness have become a way of life for far too many of our citizens, the problem of AIDS is with us and teenage pregnancy has reached major proportions, we have cause to be alarmed and reason to increase our efforts to bring about change in the school and the church.

“Our children are in desperate need of role models, of caring adults, of programs that address their problems and needs, to help give them purpose and direction and vision,” she said.

“If we as educators and church people don’t become involved, who will?” Wright asked. “We must seize the moment to help our youth. We must extract every bit of their energy and direct it in positive ways. We must be innovative and creative in our approach to helping young people or they will be losers in this race of life. ”
The National Seminar-East was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s church media program.

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  • Charles Willis