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Grass Valley churches make a difference at schools

The break room at the Park Avenue Alternative Education Center was redolent with the smell of hot dogs and beans Wednesday, as pastors from the New Covenant Baptist Church served lunch to students.

The alternative education site in Grass Valley is home to Sierra Foothill High School, Silver Springs High School and Nevada County Academy of Learning. Sierra Foothill and Silver Springs are continuation schools, while the Academy of Learning is a community day school, said Principal Mike Tambini.

Park Avenue serves students who are credit deficient or have been expelled from other high schools for behavioral and attendance problems, Tambini said. A few choose to attend due to smaller class sizes, he added.



New Covenant Baptist Church has been serving lunch once a week at Park Avenue for the last three years, said Pastor Randy Fields.

“When we started, the principal at that time said a good home-cooked meal was greatly needed because most of these kids don’t have the opportunity to get home-cooked meals during the week, due to their home environment,” said Pastor Randy Fields. “We’re involved in some committees on campus. We do some barbecues for students three or four times a year. We’ve provided some of the teenage moms places to live, provided food and clothing.”




Visits from the church help students “develop social skills … (learn) proper communication techniques they don’t learn at home, Tambini said.

The church, however, isn’t allowed to do any missionary work at school, Tambini emphasized.

“We appreciate (the church’s serving lunch) a lot,” said 18-year-old Judy Nunley from Silver Springs High School. “It’s awesome. At my school, there are a lot of students who don’t have a lot of money. It helps a lot that (people from the church) take their time to come in and make us happy.”

Nunley said what she liked most about the visitors is “their personality, their nice-ness, seeing how much they care.”

Brittany Oviatt, 17, also of Silver Springs, echoed Nunley.

“It helps a lot of students,” she said. “Many students don’t have enough money to buy lunches. The church serves us a full, warm meal.”

Seventy-five percent of the students at Park Avenue are on free and reduced lunch program, Tambini said.

“A lot of these kids aren’t getting food besides what we serve them here,” he added.

Help from other churches

New Covenant Baptist Church isn’t the only local church reaching out to at-risk students. Twin Cities Church recently donated a basketball court to Earle Jamieson High School on McCourtney Road. Earle Jamieson serves students expelled from Nevada Union, Bear River, Silver Springs and Sierra Mountain high schools.

According to Michael McLaughlin, English and math instructor at Earle Jamieson, the project could have cost the school between $30,000 to $40,000, which it couldn’t afford.

“The students were ecstatic (with the project),” McLaughlin said. “One of the kids came out that Saturday (when the basketball court was being set up) and got involved. After they laid out the court, the kids helped put up the baskets and the hoops.

“The kids wrote thank-you letters to all the people involved in the project,” McLaughlin said.

Besides donating the basketball court, members of Twin Cities Church help Earle Jamieson students in other ways, too.

For instance, Jim Adams, a Twin Cities’ attendee, comes to Earle Jamieson every Friday and spends an hour guiding students on how to look for jobs, give interviews, and write resumes.

A positive outcome

The help from churches sometimes bring about changes in students, according to pastors and school officials.

“There’s been a change in a lot of their behavior,” Fields said. “At least, when they are around us, they are polite. Three years ago, they used to curse in front of us. There are several of them who have started coming to church. We’ve earned their trust. It took a while to do it.”

Anita Bagwell, director of Sierra Mountain High School, previously located at Park Avenue, said “the more healthy people we put into the lives (of at-risk children), the better for them.”

“Just serving them food ” it’s love,” Bagwell said. “The church people have no expectations. They are trying to care about their corner of their neighborhood.”

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To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail ssen@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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