Some Detroit pastors are going beyond the pulpit to reach out to families and help increase school attendance in the district this school year.
Help children go to school joins with church leaders and the community in an effort to reduce absenteeism and hopefully ensure it does not become the “first step into the prison system”, according to a pastor.
“Time and time again, our churches have been there when people needed help,” said John Broad, the organization’s founder and former Crime Stoppers president. “They will explain the importance of getting our children to school and not letting them fall behind.”
Churches working with Helping Kids are Third New Hope Baptist Church on Plymouth Road and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, according to the group’s website.
The program started in 2020 and has guided 80 families with students from Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School. Now it aims to reach more families in more schools, organizers said. Churches will do outreach during services and use volunteer ‘coaches’, who will be vetted before they can partner with schools, to reach families.
Parents may face obstacles such as lack of transportation, labor disputes, illness in the family, children who dislike school, and concerns about neighborhood safety which may interfere with the school attendance, said leaders of Helping Kids Go To School.
“It’s not the fault of our children,” said Richard White III, pastor and vice president of the program. “We, as leaders in our community, need to change. Chronic absenteeism is the first step in the prison system.”
Chronic absenteeism has increased primarily due to the COVID quarantine, according to the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
“If we all work together and do what we can, we can help our children thrive and succeed in life,” White said, noting that the organization asks pastors to use their influence “to break the cycle of truancy” by telling church attendees to ensure children attend school every day.
Program officials said adding a family’s bishop or local church as a contact on student records could trigger an alert to Helping Kids Go to School if a child is absent. who in turn could send volunteers to solve the problem. The organization requires volunteers who can follow up with the children’s tutors when students are reported absent.
Local carpooling, donating uniforms and other services on the Helping Kids Go to School website were among the ways to help with the study.
The school district has more than 53,000 students enrolled in 106 schools. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti reported at a July board meeting that there would be a $450 increase in funding per student for the 2022-23 academic year.
Steve Bland, senior pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church, urged the community to ask the school board to invest in transportation and free breakfast for all students. “I think we have to hold accountable the dollars we’re getting now.”
“The best way to keep people out of crime in the back is to educate them in the front,” Bland said. “I think it’s something that all of us…should put in a bit of effort and passion.”