In 2020, COVID-19 has taken lives, canceled plans and affected people around the world in never-before ways.
One vital way the virus has affected livelihoods is in the educational system.
Difficulties and challenges defined school-aged children and their parents this past spring when schools across the United States suddenly closed in March due to the pandemic.
With so many uncertainties arising with education this fall, Wesleyan churches and pastors are stepping up to fill voids and serve where needed by providing resources and locations for remote learning opportunities.
Olathe Wesleyan Church (Olathe, Kansas)
According to Rev. Genetta Herrera, assistant pastor at Olathe Wesleyan Church (OWC), the five school districts around the church are all doing different things at the start of the 2020-21 school year — both virtual learning and in-person instruction.
OWC is available for remote learning with retired schoolteachers (or those who are licensed but aren’t currently teaching) on an as-need basis for children with working or single parents who need assistance with remote learning.
“We’re ready to go if the families need us,” said Herrera. “Right now, we have people who’ve signed up as needed.” The sanctuary is ready for use for up to 25 kids, grades K-6, should parents get into a pinch and need assistance in teaching their children.
“A parent might only need it for nine weeks or if a school is going to be closed for two weeks,” said Herrera. Ultimately, she wants families to know that school monitors (who will be compensated by parents’ donations), can “bring your kids here” to safe space for learning.
Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania)
Rev. Jay Lessig, assistant pastor at Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church (SWC) and director of Creative Learning Center Preschool (CLCP), said they plan to open a school-age program for kids in grades K-6 as a result of education uncertainties this fall in Pennsylvania. Lessig and SWC leadership knew parents would need support with local school districts planning a hybrid or fully remote model for the 2020-21 school year.
“Working parents are going to need a safe and supervised place for their children to be while they are navigating a school year that is starting so much differently than it ever has before,” said Lessig. So, the team created a safe place for kids.
“They will all have to be enrolled in a cyber program on their own and they can come to our program as many as five days a week from 6:30am-6:30pm for a fee,” said Lessig. “We plan on using a ratio of one staff member to every six kids.” Currently, 32 kids are enrolled.
An already-existing preschool works in SWC’s favor, as the facility is set up for educational purposes. Lessig is encouraged with how the church can serve the community.
“This has been a year of firsts in so many ways and as preschool and church we have the opportunity to see these firsts as either huge inconvenient changes or opportunities to continue to reach our community with the love of Jesus,” said Lessig. “This upcoming year will be challenging, but it has already proved rewarding as we talk to parents that had no clue what they were going to do with their kids when they weren’t in school during the week. Now they have an option.”
Kentwood Community Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
“Kentwood Community Church (KCC) student ministries continues to strive to serve families in our church and surrounding community,” said Angela Amerine, KCC student ministries director. The team has created a four-fold plan to connect, serve and disciple students that incorporates online Bible study, weekly youth group, online connection opportunities and tutoring/study hall space. The tutoring/study hall time will be open twice a week in the KCC youth space and will be open to both middle and high school students. Wi-Fi, accountability, tutoring and lunch are available; all for free.
Every school district in the area is presenting a “slightly different plan” this fall. Amerine said that “almost all schools are offering an online/virtual option. Our tutoring/study hall will be geared towards those students who have chosen the online option.”
Sumter Chapel (Americus, Georgia)
Pastor Drew Anderson, pastor at Sumter Chapel and lay leadership are working with the local public-school system to provide any support needed during this year’s abnormal school year. Local schools will be going fully virtual for the first nine weeks and maybe longer.
The school district plans to use school buses as WiFi hotspots and to park them in the church parking lot so families without reliable internet access can use the church’s WiFi. Sumter Chapel is just one church in the area providing that service. Each church is responsible for logistics: will kids sit inside for instruction time? Will churches provide outdoor seating? Each church is responsible to provide monitors and tutors. Sumter Chapel hopes to work with local university students who need volunteer hours for credit when it comes to meeting the monitoring and tutor requirements.
“We’re in communication with the technology director for the school system and the family and community engagement coordinator to see how we can either be a host site ourselves or partner with a church in a strategic location that is better positioned to be a hotspot — and help them host by putting up tents, offering tutoring, etc.,” said Anderson.
Mission House (Salisbury, North Carolina)
As an effort to serve the Salisbury and Rowan communities with the love of Jesus, Mission House partnered with local teachers (Jamie Biggs, Siobhan Cooke and Toni Smith) over the summer to physically host a virtual summer reading program named 2020 JumpStart. Kids ages K-5 participated.
“During the continuing COVID-19 pandemic our local school district has been finding innovative ways to partner with churches, non-profits and other community groups,” said Rev. Anthony Smith, Mission House pastor. “Mission House has answered that call. The summer is now over, and we are looking forward to how we can serve during the rest of the school year.”
First United Methodist Church (Conway, South Carolina)
Rev. Josh Tietje is an ordained pastor with The Wesleyan Church who serves as director of education at First United Methodist Church in Conway, South Carolina.
Tietje was praying in early July and “felt so burdened in my spirit because of the circumstances regarding the difficulties of public education.” That’s when he sensed the Lord leading him to explore the possibility of offering a tutoring program at the church. Fall plans are still being established for area schools, and digital instruction will start September 8.
“We have been preparing to open a day tutoring program for elementary students in an effort to support the families in our community,” said Tietje. “There has been so much uncertainty over the summer for most families trying to navigate the evolving normal.”
“We have plans in place to be able to host at least two classes of elementary tutoring groups, which will be led by a staff of former or retired teachers, as well as a dedicated base of volunteers who will help us by offering art, music and physical education. Extensive health and safety guidelines are in place. First UMC is ready to welcome students to our campus that can support social distancing.”
Students will also have a weekly chapel service and daily devotions.
“We hope to nurture the love of Jesus while nurturing the mind and body,” said Tietje. “What an opportunity to be the Church!”
Crestview Wesleyan Church (Asheboro, North Carolina)
“Our church is located in an area of poverty and many families do not have Internet access,” said Rev. Jerry Johnson, pastor. The church has a nice picnic area and high-speed WiFi available, so leadership wanted to find a way to serve local students — especially with county schools starting partially online and city schools fully online. Members of the community are invited (both English and Spanish speakers) to use the facilities to do their online schoolwork there. A parent or guardian is required to accompany each student. One added bonus to families using the facility? One of the church’s congregants has a watermelon patch. He’s offering watermelons to families when they come.