After working as a basketball coach and athletic director at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Jack Wells began visiting public schools in Palm Beach County as a recruiter and discovered something that surprised him. “Everywhere I went I was finding seasoned teachers wanting to leave public education. It was only September or October, and they were already wanting out due to the frustrations they faced,” said Wells. Having been active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the past, Wells said, “I felt God calling me to do something, but I asked, ‘What can one man do to make a difference in the schools?’ His answer was to start prayer groups in schools. That was 21 years ago. Now Jack Wells said he hopes to visit all 237 Palm Beach County Schools this year with a message of love and respect through SchooLife USA.
Starting by cold calling individual schools, his Christian ministry slowly grew from prayer groups for principals and staff at 45 schools in the first five years to what he now calls “encouragement groups” in 165 schools with more than 7,000 teachers participating. “I learned early on that suggesting prayer groups sometimes met resistance, but when I suggested ‘encouragement groups’ the answer was always a resounding ‘Yes, we need encouragement,’ ” said Wells.
Prayer in public schools is possible four distinct times during the day: before school, after school, during planning periods and on lunch breaks. SchooLife USA groups often gather during those times.
This summer principals from Palm Beach County Schools attended a SchooLife USA luncheon scheduled during an administrative planning day. It was a time of refreshing when several principals shared how they have been utilizing one of SchooLife USA’s newest tools: Love Cards.
Designed to encourage administrators to “love on others,” the Love Commitment Cards provide a simple catalyst for change and accountability. Those who take the challenge are asked to select three people they don’t know well or with whom they have little in common and to ask God for wisdom to know how to love them.
“First they should make sure they are loving their families,” said Wells, so the first love commitment is to a specific family member. Then people are encouraged to select three individuals outside of the home and commit to love them at work. Finally they commit to spread love to others in their community daily via phone or email. The names are written on love cards to provide accountability.
It seems simple enough. Does it work? Willie Jo Young, principal at Riviera Beach Preparatory and Achievement Academy, said it has helped her to work on intentional love in her marriage and at work. “I wrote down the name of three teachers who told me, ‘We just don’t like you,’ ” said Young. “One young woman was really stubborn and I told her, ‘I’m old enough to be your Mama so I’m going to love you like you’re my daughter.’ It was the first time in a year and a half that I got a smile out of her and throughout the course of the year this teacher really grew,” Young praised.
Bobbie Brooks, principal at Westward Elementary School in West Palm Beach, admitted, “I didn’t know how to combine discipline and correction with love.” With one teacher who was facing challenges he found he might correct him one day and tell him he was praying for him the next. “It has helped develop an atmosphere where people know we love and care for you and not just your FCAT score,” said Brooks.
At Boca Raton Community High School, Principal Geoff McKee said using the love cards helped him relate to a challenging person who seemed to come in every morning with something terrible in her life. When that person kept coming to mind, I would pray, “God bless that person” and eventually I watched as good things started happening. And rather than wish for a transfer for a difficult student, I was challenged to do something positive every day for that child.”
The stories continued as each one shared the card’s impact on their school and how they plan to implement them in the coming school year. When one principal expressed concern that the cards could receive opposition, McKee insisted, “It’s about love. Who’s going to be offended by spreading love on campus?”
Through these encouragement groups and love cards, SchooLife USA hopes to be a catalyst for change in the Palm Beach County school system (the 11th largest school district in the country) by influencing the lives of educators with the message of love and respect; first with themselves, then with their families, then with their coworkers and ultimately with students.
They will kick off their efforts this year with an event called Love Makes a Difference at It will be held at Good Shepherd Church, 2341 S Military Trail, West Palm Beach, on September 13th from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. SchooLife USA invites all educators to the event, which will include breakout sessions on the love cards, provide legal information regarding the rights of educators to express their faith in the public schools and share resources provided by the Christian Educators Association International, a professional association for educators in public and private schools.
To learn more about SchooLife USA and the upcoming event, email [email protected] or visit www.schoolifeusa.com .