Opening Eyes To New Possibilities In Bonham

Principal Mary Lou Fox (second from left) and Rev. Dana Coker (right) make sure the teachers and staff know they are appreciated with lunches, notes and cookie pizzas.

Partnership between First UMC Bonham, local elementary school and Bonham ISD has deepened organically over last few years

There are beautiful things about rural communities. One of many things I love about living in Bonham is that – if you go to The Breakfast Stop on the square and spend an hour – you can have a good conversation with the mayor, check on several church members, meet a few people and have an awesome breakfast.

First UMC Bonham’s partner school is Finley Oates Elementary School, so I did two things soon after I arrived in Bonham.

First, our church started praying. Every single employee had someone at our church that committed to pray for them daily.

Second, I asked the principal, Mary Lou Fox, if I could meet with her. I wanted to know what she needed from our church. I don’t really think she knew. I didn’t either.

We decided the place to start was to reignite a dormant mentor program. I began working with the school’s first-year school counselor. She was new … I was new … we didn’t really know what we were doing. That first year wasn’t the smoothest start, but, at the end of the year, four mentors had formed awesome relationships with four different first-graders.

The second year we started with the momentum of those four success stories plus everything we had learned from our uneven start. We tripled our mentors, and, because we were thinking ahead, 12 students had already been identified as good candidates by their kindergarten teachers.

Once this mentor program got rolling and folks from our church were more present on the school campus, all kinds of opportunities to help began to become clear. We learned that the teachers needed more books in their classrooms for kids to use. So, we had a huge book drive. Mary Lou stopped listing that as a need.

We started doing a lot of teacher/staff appreciation, because the more you watch what teachers do, the more you appreciate them! We have hosted thank-you lunches, delivered thank-you notes, made them cookie pizzas and given them small gifts.

At one of those lunches, I overheard a teacher lamenting having to go to recess duty in the heat of the day. We realized one of their playgrounds has absolutely no shade, so we raised the money to buy a pergola with louvers to direct the sunlight. It will provide some needed relief at recess, and it will also shade the special-needs teachers and students who wait in that same location after school for pick-up.

Our relationships with the elementary school, combined with a couple of other “God-incidences,” led to great relationships with all five Bonham ISD campuses, as well as their administration. When a fire destroys a BISD student’s home, they call me, and we coordinate the needed support for the family. When I.C.E. has a big raid near our community and kids are too scared to go to school, they call me, and meals are delivered. 

We had been collecting clothing, hygiene products, laundry soap and box tops for our partner school year-round, but we learned every campus needs those items … so we expanded that ministry.

These are just a few of the ways we have found to be supportive of our schools in Bonham. We have a saying at our church: “We love kids at FUMC Bonham, and we seek to show that in as many ways as we can.” The relationships we formed through mentoring were the critical piece to becoming aware of the needs we could help address. Our deepening relationship was very organic. We just tried to keep saying “yes” when the Spirit opened a new door to help!

Mary Lou and I didn’t really know what a school/church partnership could look like that first meeting. We know now,  Our partnership has been life-giving to both BISD and FUMC!  Praise be to God!!

Rev. Dana Coker has been senior pastor at First UMC Bonham since July 2016.

Church/School Partnership Handbook

Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019