Lutheran schools in Texas did not waver when COVID-19 hit and learning transitioned to online. They have been shining lights for parents and students through the storm. Below are a few stories:
Lutheran South Academy, Houston
Lutheran South Academy (LSA) in Houston changed over to “Remote Learning” on March 23 for all 750 students grades PK – 12. It was very important to all of LSA’s staff members that they did not lose the relationships that they have built with their students and families. As a result, every teacher is available “LIVE” to their students and their parents for two hours each weekday. The time is used to answer homework questions, socialize with classmates, pray for one another, and build one another up. One of our Lower School teachers has even started dressing up as different characters to keep the students entertained.
In addition to the real-time connections, students and teachers are using the learning management system, Canvas to keep school organized and manageable. Weekly virtual chapels provide an age-appropriate worship opportunity for our students every Friday. A couple of our PE teachers have even taken their class to the kids, broadcasting LIVE from students’ driveways. There have also been some pretty awesome demonstrations of support for families in need. When a student lost a grandparent recently, her classmates and teachers organized a car parade to show her and her family support. Lots of prayers, lots of instruction, lots of learning, lots of work, and lots of love are being put into remote learning. Through all of this, the faculty and staff at LSA are blessed to be able to shine the light of Jesus while continuing to deliver an excellent, Christian education.
Sheila Psencik, Head of School
Zion Lutheran School, Walburg
Continuous Learning in Faith-Based Education: Beating Down COVID-19
The 13th of March 2020 was the last day that students were in session at Zion Lutheran School, face-to-face with teachers. Everyone was excited about a week off (spring break), but we were all just a bit uptight about all the closings that we had read about across the nation. Would these also come to Texas District? Almost immediately after dismissing our students, we received word that our break would be extended for two weeks. So, we began to prepare our thoughts and actions towards making sure we had a plan in place that would continue the education of our students. Our goal was to get this all working quickly so that we could continue both the education and spirituality and support our teachers and families.
We started with a foundation of prayer:
For our great God to sustain us each day. For our school children and their families to have good days with a Continuous Learning Model. For our teachers and support staff to be encouraged and upheld with grace. For our congregation to be fed spiritually. For this to be an opportunity like no other. For our leaders to show confidence and decisions that would honor God. To be prayerful and in the Word every day. For our nation and the world. Thanksgiving for our blessings and gratefulness as the people of God.
Then…we went to work. We scheduled an all-day faculty meeting, with no more than ten physically present, practicing proper social distancing, and the rest “attended” via Zoom video conferencing. We started together at 9 am. Our church staff joined us for the opening Bible Study. The text was Philippians 4:6 – 7 (ESV): “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
These verses from the Apostle Paul gave us hope that we could not only persevere but overcome. We have the power of prayer; we can ask God for anything, according to His will. We need to be thankful for all that He has done for us! He gives us peace. We can’t even comprehend what this peace really means, but it is part of our lives as Christ-followers. God will guard us even through challenging times. It is all because we have the victory through Jesus Christ our Savior.
By 3:30 pm we had a plan. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but there was buy-in and excitement, a bit of trepidation, but the Zion staff was ready to move forward – all agreeing that our theme would need to be one of grace. And then the real work started. With the Governor’s order of a two-week extension to spring break, we determined that we could begin with our students in just three more days, teaching from our homes to theirs. That Thursday, we launched. We called our plan Continuous Learning. We would provide Toolkits [learning packets] for all 184 students. We purposely gave names of importance to the parts of our continuous learning plan, to stress what they really meant and to provide importance during this unprecedented time.
Here are some of the “nuts and bolts” items we had to figure out. We called this our “Apollo 13” week:
- Landing Page
This would provide a “one-stop-shop” in continuous learning, for our families.
- SMORE Newsletters
We needed a great look and a user-friendly interface for teachers to populate and it would be how parents would receive all learning resources.
- Survey Tool
We prepared a simple electronic survey to gather pertinent information from our families: technology, tuition, child-care, specific needs, and more.
All communication would be centralized, from the principal. That included daily briefing information from Texas District and from TPSA. Communication with families would be from both teachers and from the school office. This protocol had to be established.
- Social Media
Our Admissions Director came up with a plan to effectively use our social media platform to show through images and video – a message of the Zion family providing servant leadership to our congregation and school community.
Education packets were prepared for every child. These included textbooks, supplies, technology devices, and lessons. Many volunteers assisted with this. We created a drive-through system for pick-up. All were distributed in a 3 ½ hour time period.
- Essential Personnel
An Authorization Letter was created for our teachers and support personnel, listed as “essential.”
- Assessment and Grades
How would we assess students? How would we properly grade homework and create report cards? We put together a process page for each teacher to follow.
- Hourly Workers
These important staff members would no longer receive wages. We created a system of hourly opportunities to log hours – so they could get paid. We also applied for the PPP.
- CARES Act
The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll – including nonprofits – which fits for our school, as a 501c3.
- Cleaning the Building
We directed the custodial team to follow all the proper protocol for properly disinfecting our building.
- Difficult Decisions
With first a two-week delay and then an extension to the 4th of May, and now no face-to-face learning for the remainder of the school year, there is a great amount of uncertainty and disappointment. All school events are canceled. We are currently working together to be able to provide important closure to the year through graduation, closing worship, and meaningful ways to be #zionstrongtogether.
What’s Next? We can only say that whatever God has in store for us, we will look at it as an opportunity and a new normal. From the book of James (1:2-4) the writer shares this promise: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing or your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” We are thankful for this faith-filled team He has put in place at Zion Lutheran Church and School in Georgetown, Texas. We are, and will remain, prayerful in all things.
Thomas W. Wrege, Principal