Back to school has a different tone this year. Uncertainty, risk management, and safety concerns occupy our thinking and planning. As I thought about schools and their reopening or online plans, I wondered if and how churches have been involved in crafting creative education solutions and ideas with a community.
The topic of education in the midst of COVID was part of recent conversations with my local community and at a Faith Table hosted by Sojo Network. “How can schools and churches imagine and re-imagine partnerships in the time of COVID? How can churches be part of creating equity in education?”
While many churches partner with local schools to provide after school programs, tutoring, etc., I wasn't aware of churches partnering and collaborating with their community to plan for the education of children as they faced challenges of re-opening or distance learning during the pandemic.
In a network meeting of diaconal leaders from the US and Canada, Monika Grasley, Executive Director of LifeLine CDC, Merced, CA, shared her community’s efforts to make sure children have access to education.
“LeJanae and her family live in a small two bedroom apartment with their five children. She has been struggling to come up with ways for her two older children to participate in online learning while the three younger siblings (ages three, one, and 3 months) share the same space. We contemplated the many other families who face similar difficult situations.
Many of us grew up in an environment where meals together was the norm, doing homework at a table was expected, and education was encouraged, but for many of our neighbors this is not their experience. Crammed in small apartments and working two to three jobs to make ends meet, they struggle with the reality of distance learning. Many don’t have internet access, some don’t know how to use a computer, and many have several siblings sharing one room.
As LeJanae and I brainstormed solutions, we decided to open our community centers for children to come and do their learning. LeJanae’s two older children can come to the center to learn while dad is home with the younger three children.
This solution got us thinking! What if a church would open up their doors and become a “Parish Church” to the neighborhood? According to Wikipedia “A parish church acts as the religious center of a parish. In many parts of the world, especially in rural areas, the parish church may play a significant role in community activities, often allowing its premises to be used for non-religious community events.”
We started dreaming and praying, and one month later the Superintendent of Schools connected with several community leaders and asked if we would think about a partnership. I love how God works!
Together we are starting the journey of turning churches into “hubs” for distance learning. Empty Sunday School rooms are becoming places for children to learn and grow. Rooms are becoming safe places for 6 -8 children to learn and grow while maintaining social distancing. A room monitor (volunteer and/or school staff) will be there to field questions, provide snacks, and support the children.
We are in the planning phase, and right now we have more questions than answers, but we believe that this is an amazing opportunity for all of us to work together to bless children and their families as well as our schools.”
Any community partnership begins with understanding the strengths of your congregation and a passion to be part of your community. As with any plan, safety and health precautions and guidelines are necessary.
Start with this:
1.Assess your church and congregation members’ strengths.
- Space: outdoor areas, classrooms, gathering space, post boxes, parking
- People: who is a school committee member, who has administrative skills, who has educational experience,
- Equipment: copy machines, phones, supplies, internet
- Access to education options: private education, tutoring
2. Get to know your church's neighborhood.
- Where are your neighborhood schools located?
- Who are your neighbors?
3. Pray with and be interested in the local school plan.
- How can your church be involved?
- What would it take for your church space to be used?
- Could you be a location for internet use during online classes?
- Could you allow your outdoor space to be set up for physical activity?
- How could you promote equity in education?
We would love to hear your creative ideas of church, school, and community partnership ideas. Please share!
If you are interested in learning more about diaconal work: In the United States contact Jodi Koeman, Church with Community Coordinator, [email protected], and in Canada contact Diaconal Ministries of Canada, https://diaconalministries.com/.