Keeping Children in School is the Right Thing

Everyday Counts

Julio, a bright eyed, energetic, six-year old first-grader in a Bellevue elementary school is chronically tardy and frequently absent from school. When the school’s attendance secretary called his home one morning, Julio answered the phone.  “She’s sleeping” said Julio when the secretary asked for Mom. “She worked all night cleaning at the hospital.” His mom does custodial work on the “graveyard” shift.

Studies show unequivocally that children who fall behind in learning in early grades are rarely able to catch up and experience academic success. Educators often say, “By third grade, you must learn to read and from then on, you must read to learn.” Julio, through no fault of his own, is losing ground every day he’s tardy or misses school altogether. He is just six years old.

Video games are the passion of Jesse (a middle-schooler).  He’s connected online with a group of middle school peers who compete head-to-head and, sometimes as groups, in combat-style games. Often, the competition heats up in the late evening and Jesse stays engaged into the wee hours of the morning.  Since his parents leave by 6:30 a.m. for work, they count on Jesse to get himself to school. Even when he attends, Jesse misses the first two or three periods of the school day.

Successful transitions from 5th to 6th grade and from 8th to 9th are critical to a student’s continued progress toward high school graduation.  Jesse got distracted by the video games as he began the first year of middle school.  Just when his parents work schedule required him to assume more personal responsibility for attending school, he slipped through the transition gap and cannot realize that his future is at stake.  A high school diploma is typically the minimum credential for long-term employment and life success. In Bellevue, the five-year high school graduation rate for the class of 2016 was 94.5%. This means that more than 80 students did not attain this crucial credential within five years of starting ninth grade. The students who did not complete high school are not randomly distributed throughout the population. They are mostly male (71%), often Black or Hispanic (31%), and likely face an additional challenge such as low family income (39%), limited English proficiency (20%), a special education need (32%), and/or being homeless (6%).

Community Support Required

Julio and Jesse represent a segment of the local student population in dire need of community support.  When students need an extra dose of structure or support to get attendance habits back on track, they connect with the Community Truancy Board (CTB) at the Bellevue School District. The CTB combines the power of the court, the resources of the school district, community members and the involvement of the family to respond effectively to a student’s truancy.  CTB engagement is often an effective way to: start the conversation with a family about student attendance, reestablish a connection between school staff and a student, and identify what changes need to occur to help the student get back on track.

 Volunteers Staff the CTB

The Board meets weekly and is staffed with community volunteers, district employees, and city staff.  Typically, a community volunteer serves just one day per month.  At the CTB meetings, conversations with students and their families surface many potential solutions to improve attendance.  CTB serves over 50 chronically absent students per year – meeting with most multiple times.

The CTB builds a culture of service among Board members so that, when children have an unmet need impacting their attendance, the community will find a way to address it. Board members have secured outside services for students and families through numerous organizations such as Jubilee REACH, Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA. The Kid REACH tutoring program at BelPres is also a factor in this culture of community support.

Community volunteers are trained before they hear cases at CTB. They learn skills of “mindful inquiry” and reflective listening.  Board members are non-judgmental, clear-spoken and interested in the safety and well-being of students and their families. They attend hearings on a regular basis, read background material on the cases, ask open-ended questions of students, parents/guardians and participate in creating recommendations for a plan to help students achieve regular school attendance.

 Student and Parent Testimonies

While the work of the CTB is a strategy for meeting the requirements of Washington State law mandating school attendance, the great benefits are those realized by the students who follow the Board’s recommendations and attend school. In the close of the past school year, the mother of a former chronically truant student expressed her gratitude to the CTB: “You helped very much in terms of motivation and support. Without you, we wouldn’t have known what to do… At the truancy board meetings, I learned the meaning of community:  it means our family and everyone coming together to help each other out. I am very grateful because, without them, my daughter would not have made a turn around and been recognized for it. She still has a ways to go but she graduated high school and is now taking classes at Bellevue College.”

The daughter rediscovered her potential and found the CTB to be a supportive community presence that held her accountable.  She said, “The Truancy Board was helpful because they kept me accountable to the plan. It was good to come to the meetings every month. Their encouragement helped me learn from my mistakes and I didn’t give up.”  Many students and families need the surrounding community to help them meet the challenges of daily life.  Children who experience academic success and graduate from high school with a post-secondary plan are better equipped for adult life, responsible citizenship and making a contribution to our community.

BelPres Involvement 

Multiple members of BelPres have served on the Community Truancy Board and attest to its value and results. In the words of Dave Cole, “The experience of being a part of the Truancy Board has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life.  Witnessing a vulnerable, young, male student – so deeply troubled from previous sexual abuse – successfully bond with a teacher who showed him unconditional love was truly amazing. Over time, the boy’s life was transformed.  I heard that teacher say, with tears rolling down her cheeks, ‘I love that child.’  The work of the CTB is remarkable.”

Approaching the new school year, the CTB has vacancies to be filled. Please contact Community Outreach Director, Tom Brewer for further information about serving on the CTB.

Miracles Do Happen!

For more than a dozen years, we have sent teams to support Nicolás Fund for Education in La Esperanza, Guatemala. In that time, enduring relationships of love and trust have formed between team members and villagers. One such relationship emerged between team member, Tom and a widow in the village named Juana.

Juana is the adopted mother of Bernabé, a boy who’s life seemed destined for trouble. Juana has been doing her best to raise Bernabé as a single mom.   On each of Tom’s trips to the Ixil, he made a point to seek out Juana to give her a word of encouragement.

Bernabé’s negative attitude has been a source of pain for Juana. She has been praying for a solution for the past few years as he was frequently truant from school and eventually dropped out altogether. He fell in with a “bad crowd,” was both disrespectful, and physically and emotionally abusive to Juana.  Bernabé traveled to the fincas (plantation farms) to work, a fertile ground for gang recruitment.  This came at a particularly difficult time for Juana, as she developed a severe eye condition that causes pain when exposed to bright sunlight.  This eye condition made it impossible for Juana to plant or harvest crops.

Nicolás Fund for Education National Director, Ivan España, recognized Juana’s problem and devised a plan.  Nicolás Fund for Education began providing a village tutor for Bernabé to help him catch up in school.  Bernabé began to benefit from the tutoring. The progress was both slow and not without setbacks.  This year, Ivan came up with a new plan:  Tom would pay Bernabé to plant and harvest Juana’s snow peas; Bernabé would not have to travel to the fincas for work.  Bernabé agreed to this plan.

Lo and behold, the harvest came in.  Bernabé felt pride in what he accomplished for his family.  With his proceeds, Bernabé purchased a small transistor radio for Juana.  Juana has a deep faith. When she and Bernabé get up at 5:30 am, they immediately turn on the radio to listen to Christian music.  Bernabé has become respectful of Juana: helping with chores, asking how her day was and telling her about his day.  This was a tremendous change from last year!

Bernabé began attending Nicolás Christian School and has become a good student!  The Christian education he receives at school helps his personal relationship with God.  Bernabé has become part of the Christian community at Nicolás Christian School, where all the students come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.  Bernabé seems so much happier now.  God is transforming Bernabé’s life through love and male role models such as Ivan España and the teachers at Nicolás Christian School, as well as the generosity of the Tom’s to support tutoring, field work, and school scholarship. God never gave up on Bernabé; neither did Juana, Tom or NFE.  God worked a miracle that is changing Bernabé’s life and answered Juana’s prayers. Thanks be to God!

 

Sunday, May 7th, BelPres is honored to welcome the Director of Nicolás Fund for Education (NFE),  Ivan España and his wife Janet along with NFE student, Ana Cordova, from Guatemala.  12:15pm UC-105 

Click here, if you would like to know more about Nicolás Fund for Education and upcoming Impact Team trips to Guatemala.

 

4 Things Every Volunteer Should Know

By Rev. Rich Leatherberry, Associate Pastor for Mission

Helping others is one of the best ways we can demonstrate the love of Jesus. Here are four principles that will make you a better volunteer and improve your experience.

1. Relationships come first.  We live in a task-oriented culture filled with micro-wave fixes to multiple source problems. We rush to solutions, try to fix or change something without really getting to know the other person. Relationships are God’s stage for life change. Regularly meeting with someone, loving them, listening to them, earning trust, staying with them no matter what is going on in their life, help us find out where someone is really aching and where they are faking in life. That’s when we discover what people really need. Relationships come first.

2. Come as a learner. We are lifelong students in God’s global classroom. We have so much to learn from the people we serve. They expand our hearts and help us become more compassionate people. They show us more about Jesus and what it means to be one of His followers. They teach us about love and grace and forgiveness. God not only uses us to make other people better. He uses other people to make us better, if we will let Him.

3. With not for. Jesus’ ministry was about empowering and releasing others. The feeding of the 5,000 is a great example. The disciples told Jesus there was a problem, i.e. there were lots of hungry people who needed something to eat. But instead of solving the problem for them, He did it with them. Jesus collected the food they had, blessed it and then gave it back to them to give away to the masses. The miracle happened as the disciples gave the food away and everyone was fed. Jesus didn’t do it for them. He did it with them, empowering and releasing them. Whatever you are doing to volunteer and serve, find ways to empower and release. Do it with others not for them.

4. All About Jesus. There are lots of reasons why we volunteer. One reason is because it feels good, i.e. “I do it for me.” A second reason is because it helps someone else, i.e. “I do it for them”.  These are great reasons but they can also have a dark side. For example, when “I do it for me’ then I am in danger of exploiting other people for my benefit and my greatest concern becomes whether this is working out well for me. Similarly, when “I do it for them”, I am in danger of placing all my expectations on them. They need to become who I think they should be, do what I think they should do and improve according to the timelines I have set. But when this happens, burn-out, frustration and deep disappointment are not far behind.
A third reason to volunteer is for love of Jesus, all that He is and all that He does to rescue this world. (I do it for Him). There is no dark side here.  Jesus is the reason we serve and the one who serves through us. We serve with His love and compassion, act as His hands and feet, accept and forgive others with His grace. And when it’s all for Jesus then everyone gets better; the volunteer and the people we serve .

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Let me know what you think. What has been your greatest challenge as a volunteer? What principles have helped you the most?