As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, unprecedented statewide school closures have transformed education in America.
The massive and abrupt shift to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing private Christian schools to reexamine how they will maintain educational standards and community during this crisis.
Christian schools have responded with tenacity, flexibility, and a great amount of faith. Teachers and administrators rapidly adapt as they grapple with the challenge of learning new technology, efficient curriculum delivery, and modified instructional methods to ensure that their students continue to receive a quality education and have a sense of community—albeit from a distance.
Although many public schools have struggled to provide distance learning to all students, Christian schools have adapted quickly to the “new normal.”
Dan Zacharias, executive director of the Old Dominion Association of Church Schools, has seen how Virginia’s Christian schools—unhampered by bureaucratic regulations—can exercise greater flexibility and independence.
For instance, some schools offer a weekly “drive through,” where parents can pick up teaching materials from educators at the curbside (while maintaining social distancing standards).
Administrators and schoolteachers can also incorporate the online learning tools that work best for their school community, parents, and students.
Teachers are finding new and creative ways to be visible and present in their virtual classrooms, using Zoom or Google Classrooms to engage immediately with students. To protect students, schools are establishing safety protocols and using privacy settings on platforms such as Zoom to prevent hacking.
Teachers at Maranatha Baptist Academy in Watertown, Wisconsin, have learned innovative techniques to teach and grade assignments by improvising impromptu whiteboards to teach their online classrooms, and grading recorded speech performances posted by students on YouTube.
Some teachers also use videoconferencing to connect with their students personally.
Teachers at Harford Christian School in Darlington, Maryland, read evening bedtime stories to younger students and maintain an active role in their lives. That creates a sense of community for students and encourages them to engage in the online learning process.
Through it all, teachers remember that students are adjusting to distance learning, too, and grace is needed from both sides as everyone learns to adapt.
Christian schools can also take advantage of Christian curriculum producers, such as Abeka, which are offering free access to their digital resources for the remainder of the school year.
As many schools now enter their fifth week of online learning, teachers are hitting their stride, becoming familiar with new routines and the rhythm of remote teaching.
Bryan Wilson, principal of Harford Christian School and executive director of the Maryland Association of Christian Schools, has noted that although learning new techniques comes with frequent evaluation and adjustment as needed, the effort is paying off.
“Our mission right out front,” Wilson said, “is that every parent feels affirmed that their tuition is more than worth it, and [Harford Christian School] did an exceptional job doing that and maintaining quality instruction from a distance.”
Maranatha Baptist Academy has noted a common experience, as parents often take to Facebook to show their gratitude for teachers’ efforts. Indeed, parents now see the value of Christian education as never before.
Individualized instruction, the flexibility to adapt to rapid changes, and independence from restrictive government regulations all play into the success of Christian schools as they respond to COVID-19.
Times of crisis often reveal what truly matters to us and what important changes should be made in our lives.
Schools have found new ways to help students learn in challenging circumstances. Now more than ever, parents are closer to their students’ learning and are recognizing the work that goes into their children’s education and have grown in their appreciation for their children’s teachers.
Students hopefully are realizing the privilege of face-to-face instruction and interaction with teachers and classmates. Together, these revelations make Christian education stronger and give hope for the future.
Unsurprisingly, financial constraints are a serious challenge for Christian education during the pandemic. Many parents cannot make tuition payments due to unexpected layoffs and business closures, putting a strain on the already tight budgets of private Christian schools.
Because 85% of American Association of Christian Schools members are church-sponsored education ministries, they are often blessed to have church support during tough financial times. Still, the next few weeks will present difficult financial decisions to school communities.
Despite the challenges, Christian schools are committed to finishing the school year strong, relying on God’s providence. They are responding to all these trials with an abiding faith in a good God and faithful perseverance to meet the current challenges.
We do not know what education will look like when schools finally reopen their doors this fall. But this trial has shown that our faith will be strengthened, our skills sharpened, our passion stirred to educate children for eternity, no matter the challenge.
Teaching children in the Christian tradition is not a mere profession, but a vocation from God. Those who are called to Christian education will continue with faith, doing all in their power to provide a quality education to children who deserve the loving, nurturing environment Christian education provides.