Celebrating 20 years with W.A. Perry Middle School
Now in its 20th year, Trinity’s partnership with W.A. Perry Middle School is a story of a parish seeking to serve God’s youth in our community, a school searching for faith partners to meet the needs of their students, and God leading us to one another. This partnership took root in January 2003 through chance meetings and follow-up conversations between Trinity and Perry leadership. Various enrichment clubs led by Trinity parishioners were developed to meet an immediate need of the after-school program that spring. The friendship, trust and relationships formed from that first experience enabled the program to expand into additional areas. This spirit-led partnership continues to evolve and grow today.
The interest in a church-school partnership grew in 2002 with the arrival of Trinity’s new Canon for Outreach Michael Sullivan. Michael had first-hand experience from his previous position at Church of the Advent in Spartanburg and saw what an impact such a partnership could have on an entire school community. At the same time, some Trinity parishioners had reconnected with former colleagues at W. A. Perry Middle School, and we learned that the families we were serving through St. Lawrence Place attend Perry, just a few blocks down the street.
At that time, Perry was actively seeking community partners to support their extensive after-school program – Club Excel. Trinity members who helped establish St. Lawrence Place knew that a school partnership would be a natural extension of Trinity’s ministry in the same neighborhood. W.A. Perry’s social worker, Ms. Marilyn Doucet, had a working relationship with the staff at St. Lawrence Place and was aware of Trinity’s compassion and faithfulness. Doors kept opening and signs kept pointing – God was bringing our two communities together.
So, we gathered around a table at the school in February of 2003 – Canon Michael Sullivan, Cravens Ravenel, Jo Ann Brunson, Beth Yon and Betty Gregory from Trinity; Marilyn Doucet and after-school coordinator Cleo Herbert from Perry. We talked about the school’s many needs, the academic and personal challenges of students, and what Trinity may offer in support. As is often the case when the Holy Spirit touches hearts and folks respond to His call, doors opened and barriers fell.
Perry designed its after-school program Club Excel to improve student classroom performance as well as provide a safe haven after school. The academic program ran Monday through Wednesday. On Thursdays, the school offered various enrichment activities for students who faithfully attended the three-day academic segment. However, many of their offerings had floundered and attendance had fallen. There was a deep concern for students falling further behind and losing them.
At that meeting, the idea took shape for Trinity parishioners to share their gifts and talents to fill the gap in the enrichment program. Cravens offered to teach drama; Beth offered tennis lessons on the school’s courts; Michael offered to teach art. In the next few days, Betty recruited Arney Love to create a cooking club, and Emory Clark and Joe Beaman at the Columbia Center for Golf to start a golf club.
From March to May of that year, more than 25 Trinity parishioners provided enrichment clubs, tutoring and pizza on Thursdays. Attendance doubled to 120 as the students enthusiastically embraced the new offerings.
In May that year, W.A. Perry’s principal Mr. Vandepuie, staff members Marilyn Doucet, Cleo Herbert and Joan Huell worshipped at Trinity, personally bringing heartfelt thanks for touching the lives of Perry’s children. Mr. Vandepuie told the congregation, “you came to our children, to our school. You didn’t ask them to come to you. They knew you would be there every Thursday.”
The Program Grows
The success of this first effort laid a solid foundation and forged a strong bond between our two communities. From coordinators Susan Umbach and Sandra Owens to our present volunteer efforts now led by Lee Ruef, Betty Gregory, Beth Yon, Nancy Holt, and Tom and Sarah Terrill, this multi-faceted ministry continues to match the gifts of our parishioners with the needs and goals of the school.
The Thursday enrichment clubs are still a mainstay of the program. Trinity volunteers are recruited every year to lead five or six sessions each semester. Cooking has always been a favorite, but the children have also had the opportunity to learn sewing, tennis, golf, soccer, yoga, art, photography, knitting, chess, weaving, jewelry making and even hand spinning. The program has also provided individual tutoring, and group educational games and activities as needed.
Over the years, Trinity’s team has also met the nutritional needs of the students in various ways, from providing snacks, to Terrific Thursday Suppers, to facilitating a backpack program that provides weekend meals to the children, to pop-up shops where families can select food and household items, to current efforts to establish a pantry at the school.
Trinity has also supported the school in its goal of providing additional off-campus cultural experiences for its students. Our volunteers have been able to arrange tickets to local theatrical performances, State House tours, even field trips to Charlotte’s Discovery Place and historic Charleston.
While our presence on campus has been critical to the success of this partnership, W.A. Perry is strongly woven into the life of the Cathedral. Since 2003, church members have provided Perry’s teachers gift certificates and classroom materials through our Advent Giving Tree. The Daughters of the Holy Cross, along with all the Thursday volunteers, have provided small grants for incentive awards, additional resource books and children’s novels. Scholarships to Camp Bob are given through parishioners’ contributions.
For this multi-faceted partnership, Trinity has been recognized as the Richland School District One Partner of the Year, received the SC Department of Education Outstanding Service Award, and Richland One’s Friend to After School. We also measure the program’s success in the students’ improved academic performance and after-school attendance.
However, as important as this data can be, the mutual trust and the ministry of presence is at the heart of this partnership. Test scores and attendance records aside, the students look forward to the time they spend with their Trinity friends. Each spring, as the school year draws to a close, the students ask our tutors and leaders, “will you be back next year?”
With the continued support of our volunteers, we can enthusiastically promise that we will be back each fall!