Every Child Needs A Champion - Kyle Hanawalt
So as I have mentioned in the past, in my other job I work helping to run a before school program in several schools in Evanston called Books & Breakfast
We provide tutoring, HW help, a healthy breakfast, and advocacy for students.
Evanston like many places in our country has significant inequity in academic outcomes for students.
So, the primary purpose of Books & Breakfast is to offer to these additional supports with the goal of helping our kids find more equitable outcomes.
Now a big part of this is staying on top of the research about what actually makes a difference for kids. What actually sets them up for success.
And I have found this research super interesting, and even more than that it has been awesome to see these things play out with our students.
We have seen things like 91% of our students improving their frequency of HW completion. We’ve seen lower rates of Office referrals, and tardies. And have seen 97% of parents who say they feel more connected to their school community.
This is on top of seeing kids who read a book for the first time, or kids participating in the school science fair who would never of even thought of trying to do so before.
It’s been fun to hear kids say things like - “Books & Breakfast has helped me love school more and get my homework done.” Or “it helped me lean to not give up.” Or hearing teacher say things like “B&B made such a positive difference for our school and students. Kids are excited to go to B&B and they might not feel that excited about school otherwise They are starting their school day off with a healthy meal and homework help. That is a huge help, but the positive connections is the icing on the cake. We are VERY lucky to have this program!”
Now I don’t just say that as a shameless plug for this organization that I feel privileged to work for. I say this because the thing that we believe has really made the difference in our effectiveness has been, perhaps a bit surprising.
Yes, we offer one on one tutoring which research says makes a big difference, yes we offer a healthy morning meal which research says makes a big difference, and yes we help parents feel more connected and empowered as advocates for their kids which research says makes a big difference.
But, the thing that we believe is our special sauce. The thing that research would suggest actually makes the biggest difference, is the effort we put into changing what the kids think and believe about themselves.
Although there are things that we need to accomplish each morning before school starts.
Those tasks are not the real focus of the site director. The primary focus of that site director to is set a tone for the room that, to adults, can sometimes feel irritatingly positive and affirming.
With affirming words, positive feedback, by pointing out each positive thing you see a kid do, by telling kids you are proud of them, and celebrating them for the effort they put in.
Through genuinely caring about them more as little people than you care about the work they do, we attempt to change the narratives these kids tell themselves.
Much like the opening video we watched today, we want kids to leave our program and start their day telling themselves "I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I'll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go." And the reason we do this is not just to be nice, not just because it would be a good thing to do. Those things are true, but no, the reason we do this is because the research tells us that if we really want to tackle the issues that lead to educational inequity, we can’t start with homework, we can’t start with math competency, we can’t start with reading fluency, we have to start with the mindset a child has when they walk into class SLIDE
It all starts with what a child, and honestly I will say this is true of adults, it all starts with what they believe about themselves - SLIDE are they capable? are they smart and able to learn? if they put in the effort will it make a difference? Do they even belong to be in the same class room with they other kids? And how they answer these questions about themselves. Positively or negatively will make all the difference as to whether anything else we do makes any difference at all. And of course a Kid won’t tell you that this is their mindset, because most wouldn’t be able to name it, but they show us with how they act.
Research out of the University of Chicago, shows that students with positive mindsets about school or about themselves as learners work harder, engage in more productive academic behaviors, and persevere to overcome obstacles to success. Conversely, students with negative mindsets are likely to withdraw from the behaviors essential for academic success and to give up easily when they encounter setbacks or difficulty.
And what we also know is that kids don’t just come up with or create their own mindsets.
Their mindsets are a product of what they have been told. What adults have said to them, what culture and society tells them.
A child does not just decide not care, a child does not just decide that they won’t do their homework. No, messages around them from the adults and cultures they are a part of have told them that their effort doesn’t matter, or have told them that they are just stupid, and they begin to believe that to be true.
And then believing that they will not succeed regardless of effort, believing that they don’t belong in the classroom with other students, they stop trying, they don’t put in the effort.
But, the great news, and why Books & Breakfast exists is because - intervention research has demonstrated that these mindsets are malleable and can be changed.
And as I have been wading through this research and seeing the impact that changing a child’s mindset has in my other job, I can’t help but think about it in terms of this church
and what we are doing with kids here.
And my thinking about this has only increased this last month as I have taken on a new official role here at BLV.
As you may know, Vince and I are co-lead pastors, and the only pastors on staff here.
We share in casting vision for this community and in teaching and in strategic planning. But, we do break down areas of responsibility as well.
Like Vince oversees all of our music and operations. Well, now, as much as ever as this church grows, we need a Children’s pastor And as I think about all I have seen and learned from Books & Breakfast, I am feeling really excited that we have re-worked our Org-Chart so that I can take on that role. Excited for what we are able to do with children here at BLV.
And as I think I think about all of this an episode from Jesus life comes to my mind
From the gospel of Matthew Chapter 18
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
-- So good, right? One of Jesus’ most winning and attractive statements... But then, never one to be too predictable, Jesus follows with this...
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!
Wow. That’s more intense, huh?
In years past, as someone who grew up being exposed to the Bible, Jesus’ rebuke here felt pretty harsh to me.
But, actually with my experiences at Books & Breakfast and with all this research on kids in my mind, I read this in a different light when I think about what it is saying as directed towards people influencing kids, it feels right on. Jesus is engaging them about the stakes of our influence on kids.
As I think about caring for the kids here at BLV it feel very real that there are super high stakes for how we influence them. How we teach them about who God is, How we teach them about what faith looks like I think about the many stories I have heard and think of my own experience of what I was taught in churches as a kid SLIDE Honestly, it did feel like weight was put around my neck There was such a focus on getting things right, following the rules, memorizing the right bible verse. The use of shame and guilt to make me fall in line. All of this informed my earliest understanding of who God was, what was important.
I like so many people, had to go through a healing process around my image of God.
I had to unlearn so much of what I had been taught, or even more so, what I had seen modeled. I had to rehab my image of who God was.
I, for the longest time, I really struggled to truly believe that God was reliably good, I struggled to believe that he had grace for me, and didn’t love me based on my performance. All of those toxic images found root in my childhood. In various ways, adults in my life formed that mindset in me. Thankfully I was able to discover a new image of God. Sadly though, I know so many who want nothing to do with faith, because they want nothing to do with what they were sold as a child. So, with this said, what is our responsibility in all this? To make sure that we are not putting millstones around the necks of our kids. That we are setting them up for success, And knowing what I know from the research, And seeing what I have seen at Books & Breakfast. I instantly think about what kinds of mindsets we are setting up for kids.
With that said, let me tell you a little bit about what’s going on with BLV Kids.
BLV Kids Mission We have things planned, but our goal is for children to feel seen and loved - by us and by God.
Philosophy We believe that kids form their earliest pictures of who God is, not by what we tell them or teach them, but in how they experience the adults in the room. If we are focused on obedience and rules, then they will come to see God as one who just cares about their obedience and rule following. If we are focused on seeing them and loving them as little people (who are unique, loved, and valuable, even when they don’t follow the rules perfectly), then they will come to see God as one who loves and values them for who they are Obedience is not our goal, kids feeling loved and cared for is our goal. REMEMBER - You are the adult, you are in control, you are not flustered by the kids behavior. If we can communicate this with how we treat them, they will feel safer. And, finally, when we adults talk about Jesus with our children or tell stories from the Bible to our children, our encouragements are toward teaching them to WONDER about God and Jesus and the Bible and life, NOT “try to memorize a right answers”
All this to say, in order to pull this off, we need adults, people here at BLV to invest in the kids.
This is going to be super important for this church’s continued growth.
The majority of the growth we have seen here over the last year has been families with young kids. As we Can see here SLIDES OF KIDS And this awesome! But, it means that we need volunteers to make sure those kids are not just kept safe, and not just supervised while church happens over here. No, we need volunteers that will model and help us encourage positive mindsets about faith and God, and belonging for our kids. So, yes we as a church community need more adults to consider helping, but I want to make something clear.
You volunteering is not just about meeting a need here at BLV. I actually think it is part and parcel with you finding a life of depth and meaning. Which is what we say we are all about. I want to advocate that you consider in kids, whether it is here at BLV, or somewhere else because -
first off, there is almost nothing else in the world that actually makes the kind of difference that investing in kids does.
As we have already talked about, kids are malleable, and learning and growing so much.
Just think about your life. Who are the people that have influenced you the most, who are the people you think about as having the biggest impact on your life.
How many of those people did you encounter after you were 25 years old?
How many of them were people that you encountered when you were young.
I don’t know about you, but for me. The first 10 people I think of as having the biggest impact on my life are people I met before I was 22.
So, not to overstate it, but I want you to consider investing in kids, because I want us to the change and impact the world around us
And secondly, I want you to consider investing in kids because I have found that my heart is changed in the process
The thing about being an adult, is that we are caught pretty caught up in our own heads
I once heard a psychologist say. The mind of the average adult mind is so consumed with thinking of things that happen in the past, either with regret or longing, or focused the future, either with anticipation or stress, that they almost never exist in the present.
Adult hoodhas a way of detaching us, overwhelming us, hardening us.
This is what I think Jesus meant by having faith like a child.
We are present, soft hearted, affected by the world.
Kids experience more joy and sadness in one hour than I experience in a year
If you were to volunteer here with kids, I don’t want to deceive you - It is not easy, it is tiring, challenging.
But, I think points to one way that our consumerist culture impacts how many people relate to Church. That it should be all about us, filling us up so that we can go out to the scary world.
That is not our focus here, our focus is to help people live fuller, deeper, more meaningful lives.
Which includes space for rest and peace, but also includes challenge and stretching Most of the things in life that are the most meaningful are things that are full of challenge. So, although kids church is tiring, it also forces you to be totally present. It just is nearly impossible to be with the kids, with all their demands for attention and not be present. Which I think is really good for you heart - it helps train us to be more present in the rest of life.
So, we would like to ask you to consider a few different things. First, SLIDE Volunteer at Kids church - Once per month, Once per quarter, Once every 6 months, Once per year. We want to ask everyone one who is here as a stakeholder to volunteer at least once per year Not a black and white rule, but guiding principal
Two, SLIDE support orgs that care for kids We here and BLV have two organization that we alredy partner with. Books & Breakfast Family Matters But, maybe Sundays are not a place where you can invest the time or attention you would hope. Thankfully these other organization and many like them, have a multitude of ways that you can invest in the care and growth of kids.
trying meeting kids on their level.
if you are the kind of person who does not consider yourself a kid person. Or you don’t think that you are very good with kids.
I want to challenge you to resist leaning into that narrative. You don’t need to spend your life around kids, or even really enjoy kids to help care for them.
I have a friend who has told me on several occasions that he is not kid person. Just not who he is. If I made an appeal to volunteer for kids church, he would just not think this might be for me. However, everytime he sees my son. He will get down on his knee or bend over, to be on my son’s level, and with a really excited voice will say. How you doing Will. High Five.
That is all. He just sees my son.
The thing about being a kid is that most adults don’t even look at you, and certainly don’t get down on your level.
So just stopping and seeing a kids a human being a person. Makes a huge difference. It’s like we are being a little like Jesus in this. Looking all humans, even kids as full of value and worth. And funny part is, that my son loves this guy. Not infrequently as we read stories and night he will bring my friend up as if he should be in the story too Or as we pray at night, my son will almost always make sure pray for this friends too. So my friend who is not good with kids, has unknowing made his way into my son prayer, That is what I am talking about when it comes to impact.
So, as we sing and pray today. I would love for you to consider how you can invest in kids. Kids here, kids in your life, kids in this city.
Stand with me.