By Brett Hetherington*
As the school year winds down, many different awards are given to students for athletic achievements, academic accomplishments, and more. Teachers and administrators often receive recognition for a job well done before the doors close for the summer, but sometimes there is recognition for an organization outside the walls of the school that needs to be shared. This year a church from the East Ohio Conference has been awarded its school district’s Friend of Education Award.
The Cuyahoga Falls City School District school board set aside time during its May 2020 meeting to honor the work that the people of Grandview United Methodist Church (Canal District) have done to support the families in their community. “It is evident that the church recognizes the importance of community engagement and collaboration. They understand that our children are our future,” said Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols.
The church has partnered with the school district in a variety of different ways to bring the love of Christ to its neighborhood. In March, we shared the story of the church opening its doors and allowing the school district to use its building as a staging area to pack food bags for families in need.
Senior Pastor the Rev. David Hull-Frye has a son enrolled at Richardson Elementary School, one of the district’s six elementary schools, which is only a block from the Grandview UMC building.
“Last year I was just helping with the school, volunteering, reading, my wife and I, and I asked the principal if there was more we could do to help out. We started providing more stuff for them, like cookies for staff appreciation day,” said Hull-Frye, who was elected to the Parent Teacher Organization board and serves as the organization’s social media coordinator.
One thing that this open-door relationship has revealed is that there are several retired teachers who are a part of the Grandview congregation. “This year there are around seven who volunteer with students who speak English as a Second Language (ESL) on a regular basis,” Hull-Frye shared.
This is important because according to the Cuyahoga Falls school board, during the 2019-2020 school year the population of ESL students enrolled has tripled, with a large influx of families from Nepal and Central America making Cuyahoga Falls their home.
“After Pastor David announced that the ESL teacher at Richardson needed volunteers to help tutor her students, I decided that it was a good fit for me,” said LaLa Lane, a Grandview UMC member who has been volunteering with these students regularly. “After spending a career teaching in pre-school and Cuyahoga Falls public schools, I came out of retirement to tutor. I worked with individuals, and groups of three children.”
Lane went on to share that she misses working with the children and worries that they may lose some of the skills they have already learned this school year. “I miss the contact of doing a small part in helping the children understand and read English.”
Sara Showman is another tutor who, along with Lane, has worked closely with Richardson’s ESL teacher Lidia Touraji. “Lidia would assign me different children to work with, usually on a one-on-one basis. Mostly we worked on reading skills but, sometimes, we also worked on math skills,” she said. Showman also worked with Jennifer Gall, one of the kindergarten teachers in a more individualized approach, spending time with one little boy who was having a difficult time in all of his subjects.
“I miss all of the children so much. They are such sweet, bright, funny children. Considering that they are trying to learn in English, one of the most confusing and contradictory languages around, their progress was heartening and astonishing,” Showman offered. “Remember, none of them are native speakers or readers. I miss my hugs from them so much and their dear faces looking up at me. I miss their unique way of looking at the world. I miss the sense of pride and satisfaction I felt for them when they would conquer something hard for them or improve in something they had already conquered. I miss the charming way their accented English sounded on my ear. I really looked forward to my Thursday time with them.”
Nichols said that the church has done far more than provide tutoring for students. The church has paid off school lunch balances for students, provided resources for the helping hands program, bought school supplies for students, donated gift baskets for the annual silent auction, and assisted financially so that 100% of families and staff could receive a “We are Family” yard sign during the virtual learning sessions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Grandview continues to always be there to us,” said Nichols. “We continue to be humbled by their commitment to the school and to the Cuyahoga Falls community. Without a doubt GUMC is a friend to education.”
The board meeting, like most meetings during this time of pandemic, was held virtually, so the district was unable to present a physical copy of the certificate to the church. But Nichols assured Hull-Frye and anyone who was viewing the live-streamed meeting that as soon as restrictions are lifted, he will personally deliver the certificate to someone whom he admires greatly.
When asked to reflect on why the church has found itself so involved with the school that sits practically in its own backyard, Hull-Frye was able to boil the church’s motivations down to one call.
“The Bishop says we are called to the community, so we are just trying to do that.”
If you have a story of how God is using your local church to transform the community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The East Ohio Conference Communications team wants to tell your story.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.