Spirituality finds a place in the new school house amid year long global pandemic

March 12, 2021 - 05:25 PM

NEW ORLEANS, La. (BAMM Network)- A year ago, Leah Peters was nearing the end of her junior high school career and looking forward to being a freshman on the brand new Edna Karr Campus soon to open in Algiers. Her younger brother Erroll Peters, Jr. was fairing out pretty well at Benjamin Franklin Elementary. 

As the Spring 2020 semester was months away from ending, a cascade of schools nationally and statewide began announcing plans for a two-week shutdown as concerns grew and many were becoming aware of the onslaught of a global pandemic. 

No member of the Peters family expected that a year later, Leah and Erroll would not set foot back onto their school campus. 

In what has been the toughest year in education, Erroll and Christina Peters described the first weeks of the pandemic as chaotic as they faced many unanswered questions about whether their children would finish the school year on campus, how would it affect their grades, how would they get tested and would they retain what they had learned.

“We never homeschooled before, so it was all new territory,” Christina said. “Initially there was no organization. For the last semester of schooling, they didn’t even receive grades because the school was not comfortable with how homeschooling was going.”

They also faced challenges of having access to devices for their children to attend classes virtually.  

“We had to have portable devices for both of them to use. We had one home computer, and one of their schools was kind enough to give us devices for my son to use,” she said.

Throughout the summer the parents awaited news from the school leaders about the plan for the upcoming Fall semester. They were given the option to either attend school in person or attend virtually, and the family opted to continue school at home. Still the challenges persisted.

"It was still an adjustment to get everything down as far as how they would do the curriculum, how they would teach the children, what would be done virtually and what they would do on their own,” Christina explained.

Erroll said his daughter’s disappointment about not being on campus for her first year of high school waned and his son did not miss being on campus for school one bit. Even with the changes and challenges, their children began to adjust to school at home. 

“It was a little hectic the first month, but my kids began to get into their routine with their classes and fortunately for us they’ve adapted very well and their grades are good,” Erroll said. “My daughter was an honor roll student before the pandemic and still is. My son was a 'B’ and ‘C’ student, and now with the virtual learning his grades are improving.”

When school buildings shuttered their doors in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Jehovah’s Witness families turned the challenges of remote learning into an opportunity to expand their children’s education through spiritual activities.

Some families have found that the best education happens beyond the walls of their “school house”—with what educators call authentic or project-based learning. This learn-by-doing approach “requires developing skills in critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication,” according to PBLWorks, a nonprofit organization focused on project-based learning.

The Peters family, who attends the Marengo congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New Orleans, looked for ways to ensure their children would remain mentally, emotionally, and spiritually balanced.

As the pandemic saw their congregation move to online meetings, a change that the family has willingly accepted and embraced. 

“We were prepared. We went right along with the program and followed along with the direction we were given,” Erroll said. "My kids know our meetings, our family worship and meetings for field service are all important, and even though we’re not there physically we’re still going to keep doing those things with the arrangement that’s in place now.”

The family has even been able to do more spiritual learning together as a family. 

“We try to sharpen each other. I feel like when you take care of the spiritual needs and keep that at the forefront, some of the physical things take care of themselves,” he said. “We check jw,org weekly to see if there is new content or videos available to study, especially those geared toward children. We’ve found that to be useful to incorporate in family study because it has application for all of us.”

Though the family has always enjoyed spending time together, the constant close proximity has caused some aggravation, which the family has also found ways to address.

“We do activities more together as a family, we do family worship as usual, but in addition to family worship we do game nights,” Christina said.  “We all bought bicycles since the pandemic began, my son has learned how to ride a bike and we all ride occasionally and try to find ways to stay entertained and not work on each other’s nerves.”

Providing a structured education—spiritually and academically—is a way of life for the Peters family. Although Christina admits they all want things to go back to normal, whatever normal is, it has helped them in some aspects to be closer.

More information on how families can succeed at distance learning and on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses is available at jw.org, with content in over 1,000 languages.

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