Fifteen years ago, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Pearland was looking for opportunities to build relationships, better understand its community and help discover the best way to connect the congregation with outreach opportunities. The congregation developed one of its first community partnerships with Lawhon Elementary. Fifteen years later, the partnership is still going strong.
“Our Rector, Jim Liberatore, was the first person to suggest we find a Title I school in our area that we might team with to help the children there.” said Debbie Allensworth, associate rector of St. Andrew’s. “His daughter, Lisa, happened to be a teacher at Lawhon Elementary at the time, so it seemed like a natural fit.”
As a Title I school, a majority of the students at Lawhon Elementary are considered economically disadvantaged and/or have limited English proficiency. St. Andrew’s congregation was interested in learning how they could provide support to the families and children at the school.
Following the initial conversation with the school’s principal, St. Andrew’s completed a number of small beautification projects on the school’s campus. Some of the early projects included building fallzones around playground equipment and constructing a sidewalk extension for a student in a wheelchair. Beginning with small projects like these helped strengthen the relationship between the church and the school.
After conversations with Lawhon Elementary’s teachers, staff,and families, St. Andrew’s also established the Blessings in a Backpack program. For the past five years, St. Andrew’s has collected funds to provide students with backpacks full of food each weekend throughout the entire school year. In addition to the food security program, the congregation also donates clothing and school supplies annually for students.
“St. Andrew’s is very focused on outreach and the community outside our walls,” says Allensworth. “This relationship has brought more familiarity with the people of our area and now our congregation thinks of this school and these children and teachers as ‘ours’. It’s never just a project anymore. It is a part of our identity.”
As the relationship between St. Andrew’s and the families at Lawhon Elementary has grown, the partnership has also evolved. The church later brought its Annual Pumpkin Patch to the school campus. They also offered a community Easter Egg Hunt at Lawhon Elementary on Good Friday and received an overwhelming response from community members. In addition, the congregation supports an annual Teacher Appreciation Lunch before the start of each school year.
St. Andrew’s demonstrates the many ways a congregation can get involved with a neighborhood school to support the development and success of local children. Partnering with schools is a great way for congregations to build relationships with families in their communities. Projects can include mentoring and tutoring programs as well as teaching new skills or hobbies, such as gardening.
Throughout the Diocese, there are a number of other congregations doing innovative outreach through partnerships with public schools and youth serving organizations.
- St. George’s, Texas City – Garden of Hope
The Garden of Hope is a partnership between St. George’s Episcopal Church and Blocker Middle School in Texas City. The initiative is a tool for developing leadership skills among the students, building relationships among church and other community members and supporting healthy food and other lifestyle choices.
- St. James’, Austin – CDF Freedom Schools
CDF Freedoms School is a summer enrichment program that works to empower low-income children by building self-esteem, maintaining literacy skills over the summer break and building character.
- St. Martin’s, Houston – ReVision
ReVision is a program committed to supporting at-risk and incarcerated youth through mentorship, peer-experiences, community building and life-skills development.
Find more congregations doing great work with schools through the Episcopal Asset Map.
Additional resources for congregations looking to partner with schools include:
- Texas Tribune: Texas Public Schools Explorer allows you to search for schools in your neighborhood by name or by school district. Learn more about Lawhon Elementary using the database.
- Kids Hope USA works to expand the network of church/school partnerships and provide at-risk kids with mentoring relationships — One Child, One Hour, One Church, One School at a time.
- Children at Risk improves the quality of life for Texas children through research, public policy, education, collaboration and advocacy. Children at Risk has developed a database of schools and school districts that qualify for federal subsidized meals for children before and after school, but have not applied for or implemented the program. Contact us if you would like to know if the schools in your area are on this list and to learn how you can help.