Gift and Grace: Serving the Students, Teachers, & Families of Kingswood Elementary
“I keep saying gift and grace, I know, but that’s really what life is.”
Sherry Schliesser, Principal, Kingswood Elementary School
Zach. Amihr. Tatyana. Sagib. Valeria. These names and more, along with multi-colored handprints, are painted on a hallway at Kingswood Elementary, a reminder of a child, one among many, each made in the image of God.
There are 420 students at Kingswood, representing many different ethnic backgrounds, and 42 different languages spoken. Kingwood's pre-K through fifth-grade student body comes largely from the “working poor.” For the many families represented at Kingswood, day-to-day existence taps all their energy. Many work two jobs to make ends meet. They face issues unique to their station in life: they may lose their home due to inability to pay rent, lose their job, or face deportation of the main provider for the family. They are also in transition. One-third of the students move on at the end of the year. For many, Kingswood is the first stop on their new journey in the United States.
“I think it’s been one of life’s great blessings," says Kingswood principal Sherry Schliesser, a teacher and educator for 45 years. “When I am with the children, whether they are on their best behavior or worst or somewhere in between, it’s just a joy.” Many folks from Peace who have volunteered at Kingswood feel likewise.
For nearly a year, Peace members have been reading to and tutoring children at Kingswood, providing refreshments for teachers, and helping in other ways. They have known the joy of serving. Jillian Darville has been helping fifth graders who are behind in spelling. “It has been a blessing to receive the spiritual benefit of following the call Christ has given us to serve others, and to have an opportunity to use my spiritual gifts,” says Jillian. “Serving has encouraged me because it is so rewarding to see something finally click when a child learns something new - that I helped them learn.”
Pastor Doug Domin has been serving by helping fifth and sixth graders with their reading and comprehension on a weekly basis. As Doug says, “I did not know what to expect going into this but I have been impressed by the welcome I have received, the real needs to be met, and the privilege of being able to bless others as God has so richly blessed me."
Kingswood is steeped in history. A 1953 architectural plot plan for the school was entitled "Proposed New Building for Cary Colored Elem. School," a telling designation. In a time of segregation, the Town of Cary wanted to send the African-American children in the community around Kingswood to Durham for schooling. The community objected and kept their children home for a school year. As a result, Kingswood was built in 1954 as a K-12 school for only African-American children. After desegregation in the early Seventies, it became the school for all the sixth graders of the then small town of Cary. Fourteen years ago the school was demolished. The Town planned on sending the students to Reedy Creek. Again, the community rallied and a new school was built, preserving the existing media center and a beautiful and historic gym with exposed wood beams. It’s a testament to community commitment.
When God’s people were exiles in Babylon, he exhorted them through the prophet Jeremiah to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf" (Jer. 29:7). The verse's modern day application is worked out in the small ways we each heed that call. Janice Fuester has responded by helping a struggling Kingswood second-grader, Kele, each week. "I enjoy working with Kele, but I wasn't sure if she enjoyed the time I spend with her working on exercises, drills, and activities," says Janice. "I was so encouraged when her teacher told me one day that Kele had been looking forward to my arrival. Volunteering at Kingswood is a way I can participate in Peace's endeavor to love Cary. In doing something for Kele, I am doing something for Cary."
But it's not just students who need help and encouragement. So do teachers. Joanie Thomas, who has been helping third-grade students with math, relates how her Bible study prays for the students and teacher she works with, and how the teacher emails her for suggestions and advice. "I know the challenges of being a classroom teacher," says Joanie, "and I wanted to help another teacher feel supported and encouraged. Kingswood is a sweet community!"
There are many ways to help at Kingswood, from mentoring individual students, working with the knitting, chess, or running clubs (or starting a new club), and reading to students, to less child-centric contributions like painting classrooms (this Summer), Spring cleanup (March 18), and shelving books in the library. And we can all pray - for students and dedicated teachers and administrators, as well as the many hard-working if challenged families represented there.
"Challenges and blessings merge in the process of helping these children," says principal Sherry Schliesser. "Their issues are heartrending, yet when we help them, with the help of the community, we end up having such grace afterwards." In the small world of Kingswood Elementary - the world of young children, small tables, and small chairs - hearts are enlarged. It's both gift and grace, as we serve.
Steve West is an elder at Peace and member of the Outreach Team. If you would like to be involved at Kingswood, contact pastor Doug Domin at email@example.com. If you want to assist with the Spring Cleanup on Saturday, March 18th, sign up here.