Be a Blessing to Your School

Originally published August 2003.

The big reason why youth workers love high schools is that they are full of teenagers.  There are lots of teenagers all gathered in one place.  Hence youth ministry has a large focus on the high school.

More often than not though, our agenda for the high school is not the same agenda of those who work in the school system have, particularly the administration.  Their vision (and mandate) is to educate students and they need all the help possible to achieve that goal.  The school has their mandated responsibility of education but they are also daily fighting losing battles with attitudes, violence, apathy, and various crimes.  Just to name a few.  Add to that multi-cultural teaching, sex education issues, character education, etc.  These are also mandated but they take away from education time.

 

As Christians, I would hope we would have the goal of blessing the school and their goals.  The schools do need the Church to walk alongside them.  Most schools truly want help from the Church to help them, but the help they want is often not in the form of a Bible club.  I have seen how the Church has their own agenda for the schools and it often does not line up with helping the school and their mandate.  Thus the Church gets on that list of items with which the administration has to deal with.

My vantage point on all this is because for 16 years I have been an employee of the school system as a substitute teacher while I am also an employee at my church.  I have purposely found time in my schedule to serve the school system in my role as a substitute teacher.   Over the years this has given me a two-world perspective that has changed a lot of how I lead in youth ministry and how I approach the school system my teens attend.

From this two-world perspective I’ve come up with many ideas of how the Church and you as a lover of teens can bless the school

Get to know your administration.  It is vital that the administrators know who you are, including your goals for the school.   Hopefully your goals are more than wanting to come on campus during lunches to see your youth.  When you do offer to be of help (which is normally where that conversation goes), be of help.  Do what is asked of you.  If nothing is asked of you in a reasonable amount of time, ask again.  Make this meeting more than a one-time introduction or a one-time permission to eat lunch with your youth.  Start a relationship with the administration, particularly an assistant principal.  They tend to not be pulled in the thousand directions that a principal is.  If you have a personal relationship with a vice principal, opportunities to serve will become more available to you.  Through faithful service in small things, favor is granted and soon larger opportunities become available.

Tip:  Do not believe what other youth workers have said about the administrators.  It may be a correct summarization or that youth worker may have done something to cause the administrator to be skeptical.  Remember his/her role to educate is overwhelming and hard enough to accomplish without an outsider trying to use his/her school to fulfill his/her agenda.  You may find the administrator grateful and easy to work with because of how you approach him/her.

Tip:  When you meet with the administration, take them a copy of your police/FBI report for his/her files.

Your access to the school is a privilege, not a right.  While you may believe that your presence is a good thing, it may not be perceived that way by the administration.  For example, you may view it as a good thing to visit your youth during lunch since you are encouraging them to be Christian and that should reflect on their behavior at school.  However lunch is the most chaotic time during the school day with too many uncontrolled factors.  Administration and security is greatly on edge as they are looking out for every possible situation that may erupt.  Your presence is just another disruption during this uncontrolled time. Your benefit may be greatly outweighed by your disturbance to what is trying to be normal.

Always remember that your presence is a privilege and graciously thank all teachers and administrators for all their help and every little thing they had to do to make your visit to the school easier. .

Tip: If you do choose to visit during lunches, some schools allow you to bring food in for your youth, some don’t. Always check first before that pizza adds another un-welcomed chaos.

Respect bells, schedules, and anything else the school offers you. The structure of the school has been set up in such a way as to get the education-mandate accomplished.  Your once-a-week visit is not more important than that.  The bells are more important than that extra minute talking with your youth (although your youth will love any quasi-excuse to be tardy to class).  When the bell rings and lunch ends, push your teens to be on time.

Security is an issue in these post-Columbine days. Physical access to the school campus has been greatly limited over the last decade and certainly more so since Columbine.  Most schools lock all their outside doors from the outside except for the one they want the traffic to come through.  This is done not to keep the parents and you out, but to keep non-students from sneaking on to campus to sell drugs, start fights, recruit gang members, or anything worse which you will then see on the 24/7 news channels.  Graciously use the one door and get to know the security (whether hired security or teachers on duty) so they know you.  If all visitors (including parents) are required to wear a visitor badge (one way to assure that no one at school is there for illegal means), wear yours proudly.  That is your access.

Truly be of help to the school. Do more than visit during lunch.  Help at lunch by volunteering to be a lunchroom monitor.  Teachers hate this duty and administrators are busy over lunch putting out small fires (hopefully just small fires).   Your added presence during this volatile time while working on the administration’s side would be greatly appreciated.  You become their eyes while you walk and talk to your youth and the rest of the students.  Another responsibility of a lunchroom monitor is to pick up all the trash each lunch shift leaves behind.  The teachers on duty will appreciate you’re quick moves to get that trash.

Other volunteer opportunities that will greatly help the school are:

  1. Help with concerts, games, plays, pep rallies.
  2. Proctor exams.  Some schools require two adults to be in a room when giving a standardization exam or other type of exam.  That can be you.  All you need to do is watch.  You can’t do any work or reading but the watching allows you lots of intercessory prayer time.
  3. Judge senior projects or science fairs.
  4. Help sign in morning tardies.  Late students come in rushes and teachers on duty can’t collect notes and sign passes fast enough.
  5. Bus duty.  That five minutes it takes to load the students onto the buses or get them off the school grounds in cars or to their extra-curricular activities are intense.  You can offer to be another set of eyes during this pushing and shoving time.
  6. Volunteer in the nurse’s office.  You don’t need a medical background for this one.  Depending on school funding, schools may or may not have their own school nurse.  If they don’t, they just need an adult to help the students call their parents and wait with them if they get an early dismissal.  You legally cannot give them medicine or even take their temperature.  The parent has to decide solely on the phone call if their child is truly sick.
  7. Sell tickets at games.
  8. Sell concessions at games.

If you decide to go this route, please be consistent and reliable.  That will speak volumes about you and your church.

Some schools also offer opportunities for you that will pay you.  You will then have to make a solid commitment to this but you also become a part of the school.  Some of these opportunities are substitute teaching, bus driver, and assistant coach.

If you have a check signed by the school board, you do have legal free speech limitations on you.  But often over time and through relationship, you will have earned wide parameters in your influence.

Ask permission to hang signs in school. This may seem like a no-brainer but I have heard too many stories of youth workers freely hanging signs/posters while they are visiting a school or youth freely hanging signs that a youth worker has given them.  Everything that is hung on the walls must go through administration.  Even posters made by students.  This even includes army recruitment posters.

On-campus Bible clubs are to be student-led. We know this from all the literature that is available to aid in these endeavors.  But often these meetings take on a mini-version of a youth group meeting.  This may be due to an influential adult presence or because the youth leaders are so busy with school that they come ill-prepared on a regular basis to the Bible club meetings so the youth worker jumps in to lend a hand.  We need to truly back away and let the youth lead these.  The result may be something that we don’t understand but then we are not students in high school anymore.  Possibly some other form of a meeting format might meet the needs of the school and students better.

On-campus meetings should be less evangelistic. I know this statement sounds sacrilegious to youth workers because that is why we put our time in at schools but youth are students first, campus missionaries second.  We can focus on switching that around or we can somehow support what stresses youth most.  In study after study that stressor is found to be academic achievement.  If the club can help meet these needs of stress and the causes of stress (they are coming directly from the stress or to the stress), conversions to Christ will be the natural result.

Encourage your youth to become better students. Do this in every way and every forum that you have.  Good students gain favors from teachers and administration which you can use.  Good students are also a reflection of you and your church to the teachers and administration.

Tip:  Hopefully the administration does not know your youth because of the amount of referrals he/she has.  For some reason, a lot of youth workers had troubled school experiences and they retell these stories with great delight and hilarity.  If you want to be of help to your school, this is not the message you want to model.

If leading a Bible club, respect the dismissal time between class and busses and respect the time you have been given. Like I said earlier, this is a very chaotic and uncontrolled time.  You may wish to play music as a way to draw students into your meeting (it works at youth meetings) but the music only adds to the chaos.  Find less chaotic ways to get students through the door.  And when your time is up, do not dawdle in getting the students out of the school building.  This goes back to security and safety issues and you definitely want to be of help in those areas.

Remember to remember the overlooked ones. Do special somethings for the ones that do not get a “teacher appreciation week.”  This would be the janitors, security, and the ISS teacher who has to put up with all the students who got referrals and in-school suspensions.

Use the school mail system. All teachers have mail slots from which they pick up the daily announcements, meeting notices, referrals returned, parent messages, etc.  Write notes of encouragement and leave them (postage free!) with all this other paper.  In the midst of that paper, your notes will be appreciated even more.