School's back: Is that good or bad?

August 9th, 2018

It all depends on who you ask.

Many parents will smile and say that summer has gone on long enough, so children heading off to school every day is good. Those parents aren’t wrong to feel this way; they’re simply honest. Drivers caught behind a school bus, though, will cast a different vote. Be wise: The commute might take longer, but it’s not worth it to pass that big yellow vehicle because the arm that says Stop! might extend at any surprise moment, which a police officer will not care to hear about, resulting in a heavy fine and four Saturday mornings in a drivers’ safety course plus higher insurance rates for a few years. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Okay, some adults feel one way, some the other. What about students? What do they say about school starting? Prepare for another split decision.

For the first segment that comes to mind, returning to the classroom feels disappointing compared with outdoor summer activities, camps, and long days of endless recreation time. In the case of a less noticeable group, school brings bad, maybe very bad, feelings. Students like third-grader Kara. She dreads schooldays, constantly hoping the teacher won’t call on her because she never knows how to answer. In the library, she waits for all her classmates to leave before she checks out books to avoid ridicule about her reading level.

Kara shows how life can feel lonely, even in a crowded school. Data released earlier this year from a national study by Cigna concludes that loneliness has reached an epidemic scale: “We found that most Americans are considered lonely.” Surprisingly, people ages 18 to 22 appear as the loneliest. In fact, loneliness rates increase as ages go lower. The youngest group included in the study? Eighteen. I wonder what the numbers would have shown for younger years... Even if school-aged children are no worse off than young adults, we have a bad problem.

The good news: Loneliness is not hard to understand, and it’s even easier to cure.

Back in school, Kara can learn. Kara can catch up. She just needs confidence. And, equally important, she needs someone to help her gain confidence. If your church wants to make a difference in this world, your schools are filled with opportunities to change one little world at a time. Helping a third-grader develop confidence is quite doable for any adult willing to show up and be deliberate—at school or in your children’s ministry. My organization developed a tool called The Confidence Series for our national network of mentors, regular people with God-filled hearts that compel them to do something for children. Churches everywhere have lonely, unconfident kids and big-hearted adults.

What about the last group of students—those who feel good or even great that school will start? Do such kids really exist? Yes, every school has kids whose summers fell far short of enjoyable and fun—because they were home. Unfortunately, home is not always fun or even safe. Or nurturing. Or nutritional. Some look forward to not fending for themselves and not having to feed themselves. They welcome life with boundaries and rules set for them, even for just six or seven hours each day. These students long to relax and be kids, with no expectations that they will make mature decisions for themselves. Or figure out how to make lunch for themselves. Yes, the day comes when every person must be fully responsible for themselves, but not while you ride the bus. Maturity takes place in the cars caught behind the bus.

Well, sort of.  

School starts soon, so watch for the big yellow vehicles. While attention will center on debates for and against education policies, budgets, test scores, and other big-people issues, keep your eyes on that bus and consider what you and your church might do for students. Before answering, read Matthew 25, starting in verse 31. Then think about how nearly every student wonders “Do I matter?”

The answer? Well, it all depends on who you ask.

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