By Jennifer Johnson
Many churches lament their inability to impact the public schools or serve their students. But this fall, Discovery Christian Church is presenting anti-bullying programs in three local elementary and two middle schools in Cranberry Township, PA.
“A few years ago we did a summer outreach camp for kids in the community,” says Discovery lead pastor Toney Salva. “We held the event in a park instead of in our church building, and one of the school counselors became aware of us and thought we might be able to help with their anti-bullying initiatives.”
Discovery did one very successful assembly in 2010 with popular music and even a skit based on the story of the Good Samaritan (without specific biblical content), but weren’t invited back because of some concerns from the school about a church leading the program.
“However, their follow-up programs haven’t been as successful,” Salva says. “This year a new principal started with the district, and the teachers encouraged him to contact us again.”
A small leadership group of Discovery staff is planning the assemblies, and two teams of volunteers present them. The content of each assembly focuses on the importance of being inclusive of others, being a good friend, understanding the difference between regular conflict and bullying, and, for the middle schools, the dangers of misusing social media.
“We’re talking about five schools, but because each one is so large we’ll actually present the program twice at each school, so it’s 10 assemblies altogether,” Salva says. “Our volunteers are great and they’re taking days off work to participate.”
Discovery is not charging the district for taking on the program, seeing it instead as a service to the community and to the schools.
“We’re also creating material for discussion groups the school can use throughout the year. We’ll run our planning by the school administration ahead of time, and they’ll make sure there’s nothing that crosses any boundaries,” Salva says. “But really, this is not about proselytizing or promoting our church. It’s just a great way to stay connected to the leaders and the families in our community.”