Churches' role stressed

Richmond County students need the faith community to play a supporting role if they are to succeed, Valerie Jackson told about 25 ministers and faith leaders at the Board of Education on Saturday.

Numbers are driving the recommendation. The 2004-05 school year saw 800 sixth- through 12th-grade students go to alternative school programs and some 689 drop out.

With the faith community's support, Richmond County could close its alternative schools in five years, says the citizens advisory committee which made the recommendation.

"This is not a fight to put prayer back into the school system," Mrs. Jackson, a committee member, told attendees. "However, if we teach our children properly, our children will be prayers walking into the school system."

The committee wants the faith community to use the pulpit, bulletins and Sunday school to echo the values education curriculum introduced in county schools about 10 years ago. The starting date for the campaign is Thursday.

The values curriculum has made a positive impact but it could be more effective with the active participation of the faith community, said Roberta Hatcher, a speaker.

The Rev. Ethoin Rowe pointed out that faith institutions begin educating children from their earliest years. The faith community is also one that has access to parents and children at the same time.

Each faith leader got a copy of a character education poster, listing the 27 character traits the Georgia Legislature requires schools to teach. Among them are perseverance, cooperation, kindness, courtesy and respect for the creator.

The schools' job is to help the students know and live the traits, but they leave it up to others in the community to define what a creator is, said Dr. Virginia Bradshaw, an assistant superintendent for instruction.

"We know as teachers the most important thing we do is touch the spirit of our children, and hopefully what we reflect to them gives them a clue as to all the positives, all the potential in that school. We have to leave it at that," she said. "We have to have the help from the home and the other institutions of our community to follow through."

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.