This year, as many children will be starting the new school year online, their parents are in the unenviable position of having to figure out how to maintain a full-time job while supervising their child’s education. As is often the case when a community faces a problem or unmet need, local churches are stepping up to help. Some churches are even proposing, if kids can’t go back to school in a physical sense, why not send them to church?
“There were a lot of teachers, working families struggling at a two weeks notice to find something for their children,” Theresa Mayo told WAFF 48. Mayo is the children’s minister at Gilliam Springs Baptist Church in Arab, Alabama. The church worked with the school district to come up with a plan to provide supervision and a place to study for children whose parents need to go to work.
Earlier in August, the Arab school district announced that they would be starting the school year with a hybrid online and in-person schedule, allowing for only half of the students to be at the school on any given day. One group of students will attend classes in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other group will attend Thursday and Friday. Both groups of students will learn remotely on Wednesdays. However, the announcement left little time for parents in the community to figure out how to make it work for their children.
That’s where Gilliam Springs Baptist Church comes in. The church will offer a space for children to learn on the days they are not at school. The church will offer a “Virtual School Assistance” program that can accommodate up to 120 children at a time. Parents can enroll their children for either a Monday/Tuesday session or Thursday/Friday for $50 a week per child.
Mayo said students will be grouped by grade level, sitting six feet apart, and required to wear masks. The church itself isn’t currently holding in-person worship services, but has plans to start meeting again on September 6th. At that point, if everything goes smoothly (IE: barring an outbreak), the school district will have resumed in-person learning for all the students in the district.
Churches Meeting Other Needs in New School Year
Another church, Arab First United Methodist Church (AFUMC), is offering a similar program for students. First United’s program will be for three days a week (either Monday through Wednesday, or Wednesday through Friday) and costs $25 per child per week.
In addition to the virtual school assistance program, AFUMC also delivered care packages to the faculty of the school district to encourage them in a difficult time.
The church also threw a “Back Pack Blessing Parade” in their parking lot to encourage their younger members who will be heading back to school this year. Families drove through the lot and received treats and words of encouragement from church members and staff.
In other parts of the country, churches are offering similar virtual assistance programs as well as other practical help for students, parents, and schools—even if it is a small gesture. For instance, some churches are allowing students to use their wifi while they sit in their cars in the church’s parking lot. One rural county in North Carolina actually outfitted local churches as internet hotspots to be able to accommodate students in an area considered an “internet desert.”
One of those North Carolina churches is Robbinsville United Methodist Church. When the pandemic shut Graham County schools down in the spring, Pastor Eric Reece told parents that when pastors are at the church, they could drop their children off to use the wifi for school. The church also provides meals for students in need and is planning on hosting a kind of study hall this fall where students can drop in to get school work done.
Another church in Prescott, Arizona, is converting its annual school supply drive this year to meet a new need: Children who need laptops. Prescott UMC usually hands out backpacks, socks, and shoes to children in need before school starts. But this year things look a little different. “Denise Woolsey, lay leader of the congregation’s Shoes from the Shepherd ministry, came up with the idea and is working to obtain 75 to 100 laptops for youngsters identified by the district,” United Methodist News reports.
For those school districts planning on meeting in person at the start of the year, churches are also stepping up to provide assistance. Whether it’s providing school supplies for students in need, encouraging teachers, or praying for faculty and students, churches have always sought to partner with schools for the betterment of the community. Speaking to Baptist News Global, Rachel Gunter Shapard, co-founder of Pastors for Florida Children, said some churches are helping school districts preparing to meet in person with personal protective equipment (PPE). The churches are ordering PPE for teachers and faculty and having it shipped to the schools.
However a church chooses to help those in need, one thing is certain: Local churches are stepping up to serve their communities this year—perhaps more now than ever.