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This school has its village

This school has its village

School-Church Partnerships
Trinity's teacher appreciation breakfast.

W.D. Sugg Middle School in Bradenton has a lot going for it. It has about 1,000 students, a dedicated principal in her fourth year of leadership, concerned parents, government assistance with lunches, and a vibrant partnership with Trinity United Methodist Church.

All of these variables add up to a good grade for the school.

Spring break food bags

It may sound impossible, but the state of Florida gives a yearly grade to every school in the state.  In the last four years, Sugg has gone from a D to a C to a C+ and finally a B. That’s a big improvement and a cause to celebrate, so volunteers from Trinity showed the whole staff appreciation with a special breakfast last May.

 And that’s just one of the many ways the church helps the school improve.

“My philosophy is that it takes a lot of extra help to make changes. It takes a whole village, and they (volunteers) are part of that village,” principal Ann McDonald said. “We need every person who can help us improve our school and they do that.”

Home School Liaison Carmen Torres learned first-hand how much the church cares about Sugg students.

Two years ago, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, her family was left homeless. She moved to Florida with her husband and young daughter and had to live in a truck for a few weeks. During that time, they enrolled their daughter in Sugg.

“She was very depressed about our situation, but as days passed, she came home with a new backpack and school supplies and stories about how kind people had made her feel better…she drastically changed, and I was so glad I offered to help at the school,” Torres said.

She helped translate for other parents having the same struggles adjusting to a new school after being displaced. Eventually, she was hired as a bilingual teacher’s aide before taking the position she holds now. She finds out needs of the students and passes information to Trinity volunteers.

Ann Cruikshank is member of that group.

School supply drive for Sugg Middle SchoolS

She said the church has helped local schools for years with quilts for kindergartners, spring break groceries etc., but they decided to make Sugg a priority when McDonald became principal. Cruikshank is a retired middle school educator who described the work her church does in a simple way.

“We do what they ask,” she said.

The Children’s Coalition is part of the overall mission of the church.  Participants gather supplies in summer for the start of school and distribute spring break food bags to families who don’t have enough to eat when school meals aren’t available.

They provide breakfasts for staff at the beginning of the year and organize a Harvest Festival with hundreds of pumpkins, games, and prizes for students and many more special events.

And prayers. Let’s not forget prayers for the teachers, staff, families and students.

One of the biggest and most enjoyable events is the Christmas/holiday store, organized and stocked by volunteers with cool gifts students can buy for their families with “currency” they earn for good behavior and good grades.

“We get to wrap the gifts and be there when they get them, and it’s a blast,” Cruikshank said. Trinity volunteers collect the gifts and attach a prayer on them, encouraging the recipients and praying for them.

They also put little notes of prayer and care in the Spring break bags with $50 worth of groceries for 50 families, and they pray over the bags before they are distributed. Teachers and staff, including Torres, discreetly identify the students whose families need extra help and these gifts are given privately so as not to embarrass the kids.

The school/church relationship also aids during emergencies.

When an apartment building burned early in the new year, the school knew many of students lost everything.  The school staff got in touch with the church to provide blankets, clothes, and other needs, including moral support until the families could recover.

Two years ago, Torres herself received a spring break bag and felt the prayers and encouragement that she now sees current students receiving.

“The most important thing we see is the love of God in each person; it is without price,” she said.  “I wish that every school could have such a wonderful relationship with a church.”

—Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Decatur, Ga.

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