Williston First Baptist Church receives award for supporting schools

  • Jacque Ussery (center), a member of Williston First Baptist Church, accepts the 2017 Civic Organization Volunteer Award on behalf of the church from S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman (right) on August 8.

A Williston church was honored by the State Department of Education for supporting the town’s schools.

First Baptist Church of Williston received the 2017 Civic Organization Volunteer Award from the State Board of Education and S.C. Department of Education “for their support of Kelly Edwards Elementary School with efforts that promote student achievement, recognition, and teacher appreciation,” according to the award they received during a special celebration in Columbia on August 8.

“We are making use of the gifts God gives us to be a blessing to our community,” said Rev. Dr. Stephen Burnette, pastor of FBC Williston. “The best thing we can do for our community is help kids be successful.”

The church implemented a reading buddies program three years ago after asking school officials how they could partner with them. Impacting literacy was the answer.

Burnette said children spend their first few years in school “learning to read”, but after fourth grade they are “reading to learn”. If a student is unable to read on grade level by fourth grade, then they will experience issues in other classes. Not being able to read can lead to frustration, trouble in school and dropping out of school. Prisons also determine the number of beds they will need based on how many students are not reading on grade level by third grade, said Burnette.

“There’s a cascading series of unfortunate events that take place if they can’t read by fourth grade,” he said.

That’s why Williston First Baptist Church has adopted Kelly Edwards Elementary and focuses on the reading buddies program.

“We see the schools as a mission,” said Burnette.

S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman supports churches helping schools.

“We can’t come in preaching Jesus, but we can come in acting like Jesus,” said Burnette of showing God’s love through their actions.

While he still wants his church to support the reading buddies program, Burnette said he wants the program to transition to a school program. He also wants more churches to partner with them and help the program grow in order to reach the school’s goal of providing a buddy for every elementary student. Businesses can also support the program by allowing employees time off to read with students.

It’s only a 30-minute commitment per week; however, the reading buddies program can have a long-lasting impact. They have one church member who is over age 90 who volunteers.

“What if all our churches decided to help every student from 1st through 5th grades become proficient readers? Graduation rates would soar to 97 percent annually according to statistics,” said Burnette.

Burnette has seen the impact the reading buddies program has had on the students he’s worked with. One child drew Burnette in his family photo. By working with another student, he found out the boy needed glasses, which greatly improved his academic performance.

“These kids hunger for adult affection,” said Burnette.

FBC also provides space during the school year for the DIG (Dreams, Imagination & Gift) Development Program, provides breakfast for KEES employees on the day before school, helped with the annual district-wide back-to-school bash, and supported initiatives at the middle and high schools. They also provide meals for the math and literacy nights at KEES, which has helped increase attendance from 30-50 people to 100-150 people, he said.

Williston District 29 also presented the church with an Excellence Award during the August 15 school board meeting.

Anyone interested in helping with the reading buddies program can call Rev. Burnette at (803) 266-3046 or Amanda Wootten, the reading interventionist at KEES, at (803) 266-3737.