Thames Elementary School, University Baptist Church and Venture Church - Initiatives to support healthy living, outdoor learning, student growth and school family support

Thames Elementary School's partnerships with University Baptist Church and Venture Church are now in their fourth year. During the initial meeting with church and school leaders, the groups discussed the mission and needs of the school and how both could be supported with the resources and skills of church members. They chose four broad-based target areas — healthy living, outdoor learning and science, academic and personal growth, and school family support. Both University Baptist Church and Venture Church are located within a mile of the school, which makes the partnerships a true engagement of the local community.

All partnership activities and projects have been planned with careful consideration of the diversity of the Thames Elementary population. Thames has more than 700 students, including 85 students with significant disabilities and 34 English Language Learner students. The student body also is ethnically diverse.

To support healthy living and outdoor learning, partners and community volunteers built a butterfly garden and raised-bed vegetable gardens on campus. Students learned about insect and plant life and how to respect and care for living things. They also learned about the nutritional benefits of fresh vegetables and how to start gardens at home with their families. Recently, new beds were built on campus to allow students confined to wheelchairs to be able to work in gardens and assist in their upkeep and harvest. And church volunteers built picnic tables that convert to benches so teachers can bring students outdoors for classes.

Other activities supported by partners include mentoring and tutoring, school supply drives, support for language interpreters and teacher assistants, a student uniform closet to help low-income families acquire clothes for students, and a weekend backpack program to provide nutritional assistance for families in need. Church members also attend PTA meetings, assist with the school's science and reading fairs, and sponsor teacher appreciation activities. Members of both congregations prepare and serve breakfast to teachers each year to welcome them back to school and for holidays and special occasions.