Last February, at a time when parishioners were just drying out from their financially-induced holiday hangovers, Josh Leonard stood in front of the congregation at First Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ denomination that has ministered in Arlington for well over a century. His speech, sandwiched between musical praise and the scheduled sermon, was decidedly brief, yet it featured a rather profoundly personal discourse.
As principal of Blanton Elementary, which sits just south of First Christian, on south Collins Street shortly after crossing Park Row Drive, Leonard was walking a few fine lines here: thanking the church for past support of Blanton while asking to continue the much-needed provision.
Since 2006, when First Christian signed its Blanton Covenant and formed a nine-member committee to focus on needs of the Title One school, they had performed a number of services, from helping with school supplies and uniforms to supplying staff breakfasts and even painting the office area.
Leonard spoke specifically about the impact of the most aspiring of the church’s projects: sending dozens of Blanton students to TCC’s College for Kids, at $200 a pop.
College for Kids is the highly-ballyhooed summer enrichment program where children in first through eighth grades take four classes over a span of three weeks in a variety of subjects, such as science and technology, reading and writing, swimming and basketball, digital photography and graphic design, piano, leadership skills – there’s even a class called “Cool Stuff for
While accompanying church volunteers to the TCC Southeast Campus (members ride the bus to the college and wait for a few hours until they are done), First Christian Pastor Don Wilson saw the students file out of the bus and almost immediately scatter.
“Where are they going?” he asked, rather panicky.
The students class-hop like any other run-of-the-mill college student.
Now back to Leonard. He reminded the congregation that their love offerings weren’t merely to get a child off the couch for three weeks or some program where they could check off the box of good deeds, but one which was explicitly “changing lives.”
“That was such a profound statement,” says Carol Wilson, who heads its children’s ministry and is the pastor’s wife. “I think of anything he said, that resonated the most.”
It certainly did for Betty Thomas, a retired educator who chairs the Blanton Committee.
“We want them to know college could be in their future,” Thomas says. “We want their dreams to expand.”
The first Blanton batch to attend College for Kids numbered 17. This June it was 57. It has been as high as 75, in 2017. First Christian was in the beginning getting help from TCC, which offered 10 scholarships. That stopped in 2016 when First Christian raised enough money to allow TCC to hand over those scholarships to others.
Blanton administration is certain that participants in College for Kids perform better in middle school and high school; while there’s no raw data, what a former Blanton principal looked at was the number of students who in high school ended up taking dual credit courses. Every single one of the Blanton students in dual credit classes had gone through College for Kids.
That’s enough for Thomas and Wilson, who are urging other Arlington churches to partner with schools; churches, they think, are great community resources and can be a huge benefit, especially to economic-struggling areas. (That’s the other tightrope walk for First Christian. Maneuvering the separation of Church & State thing).
Still other churches, such as New Life Fellowship in south Arlington, give a helping hand to schools.
“It works,” Thomas says of First Christian’s work at Blanton. “The principal loves it. The teachers seem to love it. The kids certainly love it. And our church loves it. It’s a win for everybody.”
Columnist Kenneth Perkins has been a contributing writer for Arlington Today since it debuted. He is a freelance writer, editor and photographer.