As the president of Oneida Baptist Institute, I spend much of my time interacting with adults and many days find myself having limited interaction with our students. Sometimes I have to be very intentional about spending time with our young people and my spirits are almost always lifted after doing so.
Most school days, I arrive in our cafeteria for lunch long after our students have all had their lunch period. One day recently I arrived at lunch to find 8-10 adults still eating lunch and one student present. This student—we will call him John for the remainder of this article—was wearing a hair net. This indicated to me that he was suspended from school and working in our kitchen.
When I asked John why he was suspended, he told me he had gotten into a fight with another boy. John typically isn’t in trouble, and was referred to us by one of the fine Kentucky Baptist churches who knows, loves, and supports Oneida.
John got his food and headed to a back table away from the adults who were present. Once I got my food, I went back to sit with him. I asked John more about the fight and then asked other questions about his background and home life. I already knew some about this young middle-schooler, but learned more about him in our 15-minute-or-so lunch discussion. John came to us as a sixth-grader and is now halfway through his seventh-grade year. When I asked him what he plans to do with his life when he grows up, he said he wants to play in the NFL. He also told me he will only be an OBI student for the remainder of this school year. He will then be moving to Mississippi with his mother, and is planning to play football.
In our long history, we’ve had nearly every sport except football, so I can’t say I blame John if he leaves to go play football. John has done well with us and I certainly hope he doesn’t leave us. Retention of students has always been a challenge for us and we have recently been doing some research to better analyze our retention rates. It will be helpful to learn whatever this research and data shows, but I won’t plan to overhaul our program regardless of what it says. While my heart wants every kid we ever enroll to stay with us until graduation day, I also know we should be about the business of helping to restore families, and sometimes that means kids returning home to be with their parents.
It is no accident when we have a kid for a year or two, or even just a few weeks. Pray for John, pray for all of our students, and pray for our staff as we seek to minister to each unique student that the Lord sends our way, even if just for a short time.