A church became a game-changer for this Charlotte middle school and the data backs it up

A church became a game-changer for this Charlotte middle school and the data backs it up
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McClintock Middle probably shouldn’t exist today.

As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools looked for low-performing, low-income campuses to close during the economic recession, the southeast Charlotte school was on the short list. What kept it open, administrators say, was the advocacy of a nearby church and the community it helped create at McClintock.

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The school district’s top leaders gathered at the school Tuesday to present the results of a two-year UNC Charlotte Urban Institute study examining the effectiveness of the Christ Lutheran Church program with McClintock – known as McPIE. (Full disclosure: I’m a member at Christ Lutheran and have volunteered with McPIE on a handful of occasions)

There are a lot of churches that work with CMS schools – Greenway Park Elementary and New Charlotte Church is a partnership that stands out – but the McPIE program is the gold standard. It’s the most involved and among the longest-tenured.

The program began in 2007 when then-Superintendent Peter Gorman issued a call to action to churches across the city to be more of a part of the education scene. Christ Lutheran answered with a handful of volunteers to read to and mentor students at the school less than three miles down the road.

Quickly, it evolved into what it is today: Every Tuesday during the school year, more than 300 parents, students and siblings gather for a meal and then a class or activity at Family Night. There are 18 clubs for students (think robotics, computer building and Scouting), five classes for adults and a nursery. Church volunteers will drive and pick kids up, take them to McClintock and then home again. The idea is to eliminate barriers keeping people from being part of the community.

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But it’s not enough to just have a feel-good program, especially not when you’re talking about 100+ volunteers and a serious commitment. The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute study wanted to put some numbers behind it.

Their data showed that students who attended McPIE had fewer days absent than non-McPIE students and students at a comparable middle school. They also had higher passing rates on math and science exams. The most compelling stuff in the report, though, were the qualitative data. Surveys show that parents and administrators really feel like there’s been a change in the culture of the school. It’s also now housed in a brand-new building and recently gained a STEAM magnet.

The report also highlighted challenges. McPIE students were more likely to be chronically absent when they went on to 9th grade, and they had a higher rate of suspensions while in middle school. The school also still rated a “D” in the letter grades the state hands out (though that was an improvement over last year).

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It’s not realistic to expect a program like this in every school. Christ Lutheran has more than 3,000 members and can support that kind of volunteer base.

But I chatted after the announcement with LaTarzja Henry, who runs community partnerships and family engagement for the school district. She said there’s plenty of opportunity for more partnerships. She keeps a list of schools that are open to such a thing.

Henry recommended that congregations looking to help out should just pop in the school next door and ask what they truly need and what’s keeping their community from coming together. A mentorship or reading program could be an easy first step, or it could not be the answer.

The key, though, she said is consistency. Students with the most need are used to people showing up for a little while and then drifting off. Relationships are what’s most important.

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