Is This a Key to Fixing America’s Public Schools?

Roosevelt High School, formerly Oregon’s most under-resourced and at-risk school, was in danger of closing down before a pastor and his caring congregation set out on an unprecedented journey to form a long-standing relationship that not only saved the school, but also profoundly transformed the lives of its students and staff.

It all started with a 2008 day of service that was set up by Kip Jacob, pastor of the 2,000-member SouthLake Foursquare Church in West Linn, Oregon, and his church members who wanted to help meet some basic needs with a one-time day of service to help refurbish and remodel the high school campus.

But that event ended up setting the faith community on a path toward something bigger than they could have ever imagined — and the remarkable story about the uncommon relationship between a house of worship and a public school is captured in a new documentary titled “Undivided.”

Jacob recently shared that journey with TheBlaze along with his ambitious Be Undivided program aimed at rejuvenating communities by matching each of the nation’s 300,000 churches to one of America’s 100,000 public schools.

While Jacob recalled expecting numerous people to show up and help during the day of service, he was stunned to see 1,500 people flock to the school to pitch in that day, accomplishing a list of to-do items that would have taken years — in just four hours.

The massive turnout was the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between the church and the school, giving congregants the ability to serve their community on a consistent basis.

“The [Christian] church in general has gone through such a transition in America and pastors are looking for opportunities to be present in the culture more,” he said. “They just kept inviting us back.”

Jacob said that the relationship between SouthLake Foursquare Church and Roosevelt is still going strong seven years later and that the house of worship actually pays a staff member who has an office inside of the school to serve as a liaison, matching school needs with appropriate members of the church.

“We have a coordinator that matches volunteers in the church with the school’s needs,” Jacob said, noting that church members are on site weekly, if not daily, to help out. “I think it speaks to the need that the public schools are experiencing.”

The pastor made it clear, though, that no proselytization goes on and that church members are instructed to avoid religious sectarianism. Their goal, according to Jacob, is to simply “fill gaps when they are needed.”

“If we go in without a religious agenda and let the works speak for themselves, I think there’s a great openness for that,” he said. “We’re really careful that on the school property and on school grounds there’s not any proselytizing.”

Of course, a high-needs school requires much more than minor repairs, as many inner city institutions serve students who are poor and in need of basic supplies not traditionally afforded in a school setting. Jacob and his church rose to meet that challenge as well, helping school officials in the areas they simply didn’t have time or weren’t equipped to handle.

“We started a clothes closet and a pantry [and football coaching],” he said. “There were many different opportunities that came up to be involved. People rallied. It’s like we adopted this school.”

And that adoption has had a “really dramatic” impact on Roosevelt High School, which Jacob said went from being on a short list for closure in 2008 to growing in both its size and graduation rate, with Nike and other groups coming on board to join SouthLake Foursquare Church in vastly improving the campus.

“It just mushroomed, where people wanted to be involved,” he said. “The community has rallied around the school.”

Those good deeds have extended beyond the community as well, with Jacob creating Be Undivided, a two-year-old program that offers resources to churches looking to forge similar relationships with schools in their communities.

“Any church could … enter into a partnership with a school if it’s done right,” he told TheBlaze. “The primary thing is going in without an agenda. We’ve been able to have impact and it’s been mutually transforming. It transformed us as well.”

In Portland, alone, there are already 250 church-school partnerships, with churches in 20 U.S. cities participating in some level. Find out more about the program here.

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