It has now been proven that if a child cannot read nor do math in the 70th percentile of the third grade the chances are overwhelming that child will never catch up and will likely fall through the cracks in our educational system. Tim Tinsley, the pastor of Chattanooga’s First Presbyterian Church, is convinced our God wants us to do something about that.
Throughout the Bible, we are encouraged time and time again to treat our brother as we would ourselves. We are told to pick up another man’s yoke, to go the extra mile. Matthew 25:40 reads, "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
Soon the predominately white First Presbyterian Church will launch a virtual army of Christian soldiers on the predominately black Orchard Knob Elementary School in what will be a very sincere attempt to help children read, write and master simple mathematics. Members of the church will arrive every afternoon to tutor, mentor and befriend some kids who want their help and attention.
No, they won’t try to save souls and, if a child is a Muslim, he’ll obviously be invited to get the same help as everybody else. If a parent does not want their child tutored, there is any easy out but, in the words of Pastor Tinsley, “We feel like this is a start in a dream of making sure every third grader in our city has the educational tools to advance to the fourth grade.”
Tim, who hopes other local churches will adopt nearby elementary schools, believes a snowball effect one day assures that one in four of today’s children never graduate from high school. “If a child doesn’t graduate from high school, it costs their family. It costs the city. It costs the state, and it costs the country in everything from welfare, health benefits and everything else. They can’t get a job!”
“It has been shown that the third grade is the key,” he explained. “If a child is ‘promoted’ to the fourth grade and can’t keep up, what happens? They are troublesome because they are bored. The older they get the worst it gets -- with gangs, truancy, and all of that. So as our church leadership looks for ways to better the world in which we live, it is our hope we can make a difference in some young lives.”
This summer First Presbyterian has put together a core group to establish the mentoring program. James A. Woods, Scott Brown, Jeff and Mary Elizabeth Kyle and others have recruited volunteers who have made a commitment to help at least one day a week. Further, in a world where single parents are the norm, the men of the church are organizing youth teams and providing male role models for children who rarely see their fathers.
“Some of these children are ‘latch-key’ kids so they adore having something to do after school. They have a real interest in learning but when they get in a one-on-one situation, they really blossom,” said the pastor.
The church has already done a wonderful outreach to the UTC community. Last week church members helped students move in their dorm rooms, providing bottled water, and many of the UTC students now worship at First Presbyterian. “We love these guys,” Tim said, “and the ones I have talked to are really excited about the Orchard Knob project – not just tutoring but getting involved with these kids.”
How about other grades at the elementary school? “We are most definitely interested in every child at the school – God certainly is – but our initial focus is the third graders. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of interest because … well, my family took one child to lunch not long ago and afterwards we slid down a hill on cardboard boxes. You wouldn’t believe how much fun we had.
“If you can make reading and math fun … if the child can achieve and knows he or she is learning, it’s just as much fun as sliding down a hill in a cardboard box,” the pastor laughed. “Think of the self-confidence, no longer being afraid you’ll get laughed at when you answer a question. We feel this is a way for Christians to love their brothers.”
But, wait, what if a child wants to know why these total strangers have come to help? “We have a totally separate group called Child Evangel Fellowship. We are going to be real careful -- our thrust is reading and math. Obviously, if there is an interest in just who and what First Presbyterian Church is we’ll respond to it but this is more about reaching out to help our community with a very pressing need.”
Tim Tinsley believes that if First Presbyterian Church’s efforts are duplicated with other congregations serving elementary schools that have previously performed poorly the experiment could revolutionize primary education in our city. “It costs the school nothing. The teachers applaud it. The parents appreciate it, the community benefits. But, most of all, a child is equipped to go forward and I happen to think that’s what God wants for every child.”