Kathryn D’costa leads the High School ministry at One Youth for Faith Church Dandenong. She has seen One Youth have programs implemented in 9 High schools on a weekly basis currently. She has years of experience in establishing great relationships and seeing High Schools open their doors to local Youth Ministry.

Establishing & building connections with local high schools

There’s a girl in our youth group, whose story may be similar to many kids in your youth group. She comes from a broken family, doesn’t see her dad & lives with her mum and step siblings. Last year she got baptised at church and I found myself in tears, realising that she had her life transformed for the better by giving her life to God and choosing to follow Him. See the thing is she came from one of our schools programs that we have been running for a number of years in the South East of Melbourne. We saw her week in & week out each Friday at lunchtime and one day she asked us if she could come along to the Friday night program we ran. She came and straight away felt accepted, loved and a part of the family. Just over a year later she is planted in our youth & church and serves faithfully on the photography team.

Schools Programs have always held a massive place in my heart! I love the connections that you can make with teens on a weekly basis, I love the connections you can make with the school and I even love the connections you can make with teachers.

I’ve been running schools programs for the past 5 years within our youth group in the South East of Melbourne I just want to share a few thoughts & tips on connecting with local schools and keeping those connections.

Be prepared!

Before you contact a school have the following things

  • A clear outline of your program (include the purpose, time, target audience, term plan, what the school will need to provide ie- what size space you need etc, what you will provide and any other relevant info)
  • Volunteers ready to start (all with Working With Children’s Check!)
  • Have an allocated day in mind
  • Any resources you need- game supplies, prizes etc.
  • Have business cards printed with your term plan on it

Approaching the School

If you don’t have connections with the school and want to speak to someone about a program- call the school and explain where you’re from (make a good first impression and use the term ‘local youth group’ instead of ministry or church) Then quickly explain the program you run and that you want to speak to someone there who you can speak to about this.

You will usually be directed to a wellbeing worker, chaplain or a teacher.Working in schools for a number of years I have come to discover that teachers, wellbeing workers, chaplains etc. are extremely busy! So use the time you have with them wisely- on the phone and in person. Speak to the contact quickly about what you do and see if they are interested in the program. If they’re not- that’s ok, don’t get discouraged because there’s always other schools (or another season in the school where the contact would be different and you can speak to someone else- this has happened to me a few times). If they are interested, great! They will usually say to email through to them the information you have spoken to them about. Do this promptly (that day) and make the email clear and give an outline of what your program is, or better yet attach a document to the email outlining the information.

Meeting with the School Contact

When I first have a meeting with a school, I will always make a lot of emphasis about the benefits for the school and also the success from other programs or other programs of this type in high schools.There’s no point trying to shove a program into a school if there is no benefit for the school. So when you word the program use phrases like ‘we want to aim the program at this age group’, ‘we want to create a safe space where students can come’, ‘ we want to partner with your school’, ‘please let us know where we can help’ etc.

Also from the first initial meeting- be upfront that you are from a church, just don’t go into details. Just mention briefly that you run a Friday night program for students in the local area, talk about the community aspect behind it and that on Friday nights it’s a safe place where students can come. Explain that you won’t be preaching to them, but if they are ok with it, would it be alright to give some business cards out/tell kids about youth on Friday. Schools are always looking for positive role models and organisations for their teens to look to and that’s exactly what we can bring into a school.

Running the Program

Once you are in the school and running a program put a focus on building your relationships with the school. This could include talking to the ladies who work in the office, the teacher who supervises your program and especially the teens who come to the program. Make an effort with remembering people’s names, peoples roles in the school and always be positive about the program. At our youth there are a number of schools that we have been in for a number of schools now and because of us building relationships with the schools- they trust us and allow us to invite students to youth, we help them run programs and they ask the church for help where it’s needed.

Re-assessing the Program

If the program isn’t going well, that’s ok! Don’t get discouraged by it, sometimes you might just need to change the program or it might be the wrong season for that school.

We were in a school for a number of years doing a breakfast program but didn’t see any students come to youth from it. So we decided to change it to a lunchtime program and as soon as we did that, we saw not only an increase in students attending the program but also an increase in students interested in youth or coming to youth. It just took that one adjustment which made a shift in our program. Another school I called to see if they would like to do a lunchtime program as part of our schools tour. We had tried for years to get into that school with many rejections, but it just took one phone call with a different contact in the school and the opened up the door for a weekly program.

High School programs can be an incredible avenue to reach students we otherwise don’t have an opportunity to reach. However our focus can’t simply be growing our ministry but it has to be a joint focus of imparting the values of our faith into the school and positively impacting that place whilst building relationships that will see the door into that school remain open.