With the 2020-2021 school year beginning while the Coronavirus is still looming, some Oklahoma schools have not been able to fully open their doors to students. The State Board of Education protocols requires pupils to attend classes virtually or through a combination of in-person and virtual meetings.
The quarantine rules have left some families scrambling for how to provide for the educational needs of their children. Parents who cannot work from home need a place for their kids to study during the week. Other homes do not have access to internet or lack adequate bandwidth to support their children studying at home using video conferencing.
To help these students, Oklahoma Baptist churches are opening their doors to pupils in need of a clean and safe place with a good Wi-Fi connection to study.
Jennifer Sise, outreach coordinator for Edmond, Henderson Hills, explained how her church is responding with their Homework at The Hills program.
“We knew that all of the changes within school systems were significantly impacting families, and we wanted to find a way to help ease their burden,” Sise said. “We were praying and seeking the Lord’s leading. Through the course of different events and encounters with people in the community, we discovered that some common needs across the board were things like having a place for students on the days that they didn’t have in-person school.
“Wi-Fi access is an issue for some people,” she continued, “and many parents were considering bringing their kids to their workplace all day. Having access to tutoring and getting lunch for their kids was also a concern. We wanted to be sure to meet practical needs, all while sharing Jesus.”
Sise explained that building relationships with families for the sake of the Gospel is foundational in the church’s preparation and planning for the weekly classes hosted at Henderson Hills on Wednesdays.
“Each week the Gospel will be presented in a variety of ways,” she said, “through someone sharing it from the stage, through the volunteers and staff serving the students directly, and through other activities that are planned throughout the day, such as games, coloring pages and more.
“We had almost 90 kids the first day and are anticipating doubling in size and continuing to grow. We are prayerfully putting a cap on the total number of kids we allow to register in order to keep safety and resources in good balance for the families we are serving.”
Oklahoma City, Trinity seized on their COVID-response moment to relaunch their children’s ministry. When Lanette James became Trinity’s children’s minister in February, the ministry had only three children enrolled.
“We used the time when we were closed to redo a 100-year-old facility,” James explained.
As back to school planning began, the church decided to leverage the use of their newly-renovated children’s facilities by opening The Homework Place on Sept. 2. Each Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon, Trinity offers kids Kindergarten through 4th grade virtual academics and volunteer teachers.
“We are a small church and have small resources, so anything we do, we keep our goals in mind,” James said. “The Homework Place was created as a way to assist our community during a challenging time. As a result of the registration we have one new family that is now attending our kids ministry and adult worship. Currently, we are running 18 to 20 children each Sunday, and I am in contact with eight other new families we have never met before.”
Other churches around the state are providing support for students by donating backpacks filled with school supplies. Roger Howell, associate pastor of students & missions at Weatherford, Emmanuel, said the church wanted to make sure that the community knew they were cared for without any strings attached.
“With our community still coming out of the financial difficulties of the COVID-19 shutdown, we knew that there would be a need in our community to help,” Howell said.
The church prepared the backpacks filled with needed school supplies along with resources to encourage students spiritually.
“We included a Bible in every backpack, along with information on our fall children’s events to encourage them to come join us at church,” Howell said. “This event allowed our Emmanuel family to donate, pray for and give away the bags together as a way to disciple spiritual maturity in our church family.”
Pastor Tosh Miller of Waynoka, First said that his church’s response was altered by COVID-19 protocols, but they got the job done.
“We did a bigger event for last year’s back to school,” Miller explained. “Last year, we gave backpacks with school supplies inside to anyone who came to our back-to-school event. This year, Waynoka Public Schools was providing all the school supplies needed, so we just provided some backpacks which we brought to the school’s office.”
The restrictions didn’t keep the church from making a spiritual impact in the community, however.
“Our Ministerial Alliance had a prayer walk around the school before our teachers came back to get ready. We had about 50 people from the community that came out for that,” he said.
Across the state, Oklahoma Baptist churches are recognizing needs during the back-to-school process. Though it takes innovation with the current pandemic, Oklahoma Baptists still find ways to advance the Gospel.