Faith in Schools mentoring project
Rachel Burnell shares her experience of a mentoring training programme run by a local schools’ work charity.
This January saw the start of a year-long mentoring project being put in place for youth workers and clergy who want to take the message of the gospel into schools. Faith in Schools is an initiative set up by a Newham based charity and a Local Mission Partner of Scripture Union. Their aim is to reach the 95% of children in schools who are not in church according to research carried out in 2016 by Scripture Union and the Talking Jesus Report. Churches across London have been approached to offer bespoke training to those passionate about working with children with the hope that schools and local churches will have a better partnership and dialogue.
The first training session was held in Stratford in mid-January and was a great opportunity to share teaching ideas, try out activities and watch a classroom-based session taught by one of the FiS team. Our day as a team of trainees started off with a challenging escape room task to get us bonding and we managed to solve the Bible-based clues and escape within 12 minutes. This is definitely an activity I will be trying out with the church youth group!
In the afternoon’s lesson observation, it was clear that the Year-5 children were totally engaged (and grossed out) by a foot-washing intro activity and were all open to sharing ways people may follow Jesus by serving each other. The children were from diverse backgrounds but were all very receptive to asking questions to the volunteers about Christianity and Jesus. The evangelistic message and RE teaching methods were extremely well balanced.
This week’s second training session was as enjoyable as the first. We were encouraged to be creative with plasticine, show perseverance in juggling oranges and learn how to successfully recruit volunteers, which is always a challenge in my experience! The afternoon involved another school visit, where again we were made to feel welcome and the children were extremely enthusiastic in their lesson about light. This time we were active participants rather than observing and the children loved having so many visitors to talk to. It led to some great discussion on Jesus as the light in the darkness and sharing our own experience of this. By the end of the lesson it was difficult to leave as the Year-3 pupils had so much they still wanted to know more about.
In between the training sessions there have also been opportunities to reflect on our participation in the programme through online hub hangouts and webinars. At the start, FiS asked for each participant to have a vision for their own work in schools and to share a pitch for this with our mentor. For example, trying to reduce the issue of knife crime amongst young people in East London or improving mental health. My own vision was hazy at first, but related to my other schools’ work with a charity in Twickenham I hope to focus on sharing the importance of healthy relationships and self-esteem through teaching students about God’s love for them. This may involve a type of Romance Academy project or something similar depending on the opportunity and need of the schools I go in.
What is also exciting is that although the training is being held in the East End, a number of us are from west London and are able to liaise together on approaching schools within the Kensington Area. There is still one more training session to go this term before we start to put all the theory into practice but I am very much looking forward to seeing how we can impact schools with our faith and to help young people find out more about Jesus.
Rachel Burrell is a children’s and youth worker in Isleworth.