Just in time for the start of the school year, a study reports that kids who attend church regularly get higher grades:

In the nearly 24 years Carolyn Knight has been director of children’s ministries at the United Methodist Church in Mitchell, she has seen the number of children participating in youth groups and summer church camps decline.

“We used to send 150 people to camps and it’s probably half now,” Knight said. “You really have to start thinking outside of the box to try to find ways to hang on to them.”

It’s unfortunate, says Knight, who can quickly list reasons she feels children should be involved in the church, ranging from the sense of trust gained from fellowship to the morals associated with a Christian lifestyle.

A study released earlier this summer points out one more possible advantage: Academic achievement above and beyond that attained by kids who don’t attend regular services.

According to a study conducted by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, students who attend church tend to have a .144 higher grade-point average than students who do not attend services.

The study recently was quoted in a story published by the Press-Citizen of Iowa City, Iowa, as well as a piece posted on the Web site livescience.com.

Knight said she isn’t surprised by the study’s claims. She believes families dedicated to attending weekly services are also more attentive to their child’s academic performance.

The Rev. Larry Regynski of Holy Family Church in Mitchell agrees.

“If you’re looking at why kids drop out of school, you find it’s probably related to not a lot of parental support,” he said. “I think there’s kind of a trickle-down effect.”

Dirk Hagmaier, youth and family pastor at First Lutheran Church, works with the United Methodist Church to bring in guest speakers who touch on such sensitive topics as drugs, alcohol and sexuality.

Hagmaier said the speakers educate church-going children about the dangers and temptations that often lead to poor academic performance or the decision to drop out of school. That motivational effort by itself helps, he said.

It’s also important for the church to provide strong role models to students.

“I truly believe it’s being a good example,” Hagmaier said. “You can talk the talk, but if you don’t show the children how to live a healthy life, it’s really difficult.”

The First Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church also have combined forces to offer a mentoring program, scheduled to begin on Oct. 8. Anne Anderson, director of youth ministries at the First Lutheran Church, has already started her role as mentor for a student.

The program is designed to provide a positive role model that will assist the student with personal wellness, Anderson said. The better a student feels, she theorizes, the better their academic performance will be.

“It’s a proven fact in education that if a person feels good about themselves … it would have a positive effect academically,” Anderson said. “If we can provide another caring adult in their lives, their success in life goes way up. It’s a win-win.”

Other findings about church attendance and academic performance, according to livescience.com:

+ Church-going students have a more than 60 percent greater chance of making the decision not to drop out of school.

+ Kids who attend church are more likely to have friends with higher GPAs and also skip school less often than students who do not attend church.

Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District and a Roman Catholic deacon, said the study makes sense. While Graves said church attendance isn’t a “litmus test” for how a child will do in school, he does see the connection between church attendance and academic performance.

“I think when you have that sense of faith, you have a sense that you are here for a purpose. You are here, in some sense, for serving,” Graves said. “In order to maximize what God’s given you, you’ve got to pursue things in your life that will make you better prepared to do so.”

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