On Thursday morning, more than 65 faith leaders from across Oktibbeha County gathered with Starkville Oktibbeha School District administrators at Bridgeway Church for the annual Pastoral Breakfast, hosted by the district Superintendent's Office and Dr. Tony McGee.
The event saw faith leaders from many denominations enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast prepared by volunteers from Bridgeway Church before an informal program.
"We appreciate you, and we need you," Superintendent Dr. Tony McGee shared with the audience in his opening remarks. McGee reflected on the pastoral group's tradition of visiting various schools around the community on Wednesday mornings to pray for students, families, teachers and school officials.
"It's comforting and encouraging to see you all join together in a circle outside each school to pray, and not just for SOSD schools, but Mississippi State, Boys and Girls Club, Starkville Academy, and Starkville Christian – every school in our community," McGee said. "It seems like there's power in praying in a circle," he continued as he encouraged the diverse group to join hands in a circle to bless the meal.
Attendees at the Pastoral Breakfast heard a short message from Edward Williams, a Huddle Leader with Fellowship of Christian Athletes who also works part time at Starkville High School serving as a mentor for students. Williams' message to the group was one of simple encouragement to keep on engaging fueled by the power found in their faith.
District leaders regularly rely on local clergy to offer support for struggling students, counseling and for community resources when practical needs arise. "Our students can always benefit from positive adults in their lives," McGee shared. "The work our local pastors and church members do each week to help students stay connected to school and family is vital as we partner to support and strengthen our community."
SOSD's School Resource Officer Chief Sammy Shumaker echoed Dr. McGee's comments.
"We're so thankful for our partnership with our community," he said. "The support we have from our local pastors and churches helps us bridge gaps between our schools and our families. We are very thankful for our partnership, and we look forward to many more wonderful things to come as a result of this special relationship."
One new initiative the district hopes to grow through partnerships with the faith-based community is a mentor program for elementary through high school students spearheaded by Shumaker, Pastor Joseph Horan of Bridgeway Church, and the district's Parent and Community Liaison, Karen Robinson. The program is designed to bring additional positive adults into schools to spend time and build relationships with students.
"Just thirty minutes each week can make a huge difference for a child," Chief Shumaker shared at the breakfast. "I'm excited to start wherever we are - if that's just five people - and grow as we begin to build relationships with students."
"Our children are ready," Shumaker added. "When we start to take the time to plug in, they will respond."