Panelists Explore How to Support Children at Back-To-School Time During COVID-19

August 06, 2020

“I think this is a crucial time for the church to really stand up and--not only for the spiritual journey for youth, but also--care for their educational journey,” stated Wesley Hingano, one of seven panelists speaking at the CNUMC Wednesday Webinar on August 5, 2020. He works with ethnic students who he says typically struggle in school but “now [online learning from home] is just another barrier for students to deal with.”
 
Dr. Reginald T.W. Nichols, Director of Leadership Development, led the discussion on “Caring for our K-12 Students, Parents, and Teachers During COVID-19.” Nichols shared his screen to point out the latest CNUMC statistics showing an increase in children age 0-12 yrs.  (5,555/5,434) and a decline in  youth ages 13-18 (2,922/3,134) in Christian Formation Groups. Total enrolled in confirmation classes increased from 349 to 366.
 
“The church has an opportunity to really care and support the lives of youth and young adults in the church during these hardships and continue these support systems even after Covid-19,” stated Hingano. A teacher-counselor at Oakland Unified School District, Hingano has served with the Tongan Youth/Young Adults Caucus and Laurel UMC Youth and Young Adults. He runs an afterschool online tutoring service at Laurel UMC and encourages churches to try to offer tutoring as one way to support students and their families.
 
“Community building is essential!” stated Hingano, referring to how to build any type of youth ministry. “Be sure to play--have some fun, get-to-know-you games to really build that trust and establish that relationship with students. For my 9th grade teachers we are asking them to use the first 2 weeks to build relationships with students online before touching curriculum.”
 
“My word for the year is grace,” said Jenna Stark, a first-grade teacher preparing her virtual classroom for the Fall. Stark discussed the need for understanding and support. “We need to have grace towards one another during this time.”
 
“Somewhere between flexibility and grace is how we’re going to have to navigate it,” said Rev. Debbie Weatherspoon, mother of a first-year college student and high school sophomore who will be sharing internet space at home this Fall. “and then of course our faith.”
 
“I am very thankful for this opportunity to be a part of a conference wide effort to enhance our ministry with children,” said Rev. Catherine Morris, pastor of Dixon UMC and chair of the new CNUMC Child Ministries Task Force. “ … it is a source of our life to be involved with children and with what’s going on for them.”

During the pandemic, Morris has learned that creating lists—lists of children, parents, grandparents, educators, etc.—made it possible to make contact with children and ensure that no one got forgotten or left out of communications. Dixon UMC has delivered gift cards and flowers to teachers and hosted interactive events for families and children including an Easter car parade, delivering strawberries to homes on Mother’s Day so families could make a special dessert for mom and hosting a Teddy Bear picnic.
 
“One of the things I’ve appreciated so much about having our ministry in the building shut down,” said Morris. “[is that] it gave us an excuse to go directly to people at home.”
 
Morris discussed several resources available to churches to assist in listening to people and developing needed ministries.
 
Living in a home school environment by choice, Erin Hardin’s siblings pushed through the difficulties of last Spring and will stay positive about the Fall. Hardin requested that church leaders have resources easily accessible and visible on church website home pages. Hardin, a youth leader at Temple UMC San Francisco, made a point to note that church leaders need to follow up in communications to ensure that the churches actually reach out to individual families.
 
Panelist Dawit Vazquez-Suomala is a youth leader at Epworth UMC, senior at El Cerrito High school and a student representative to the school board. As a leader and student, Vazquez-Suomala is hopeful about going to school this Fall and wants things to be different. He plans to network with UMC youth groups as well as school and community groups to activate change this year.
 
“I think COVID-19 and everything that has been going on has given us a reason to really open our eyes to what’s going on in our country,” stated Dawit  Vazquez-Suomala, youth leader at Epworth UMC and senior at El Cerrito High School. Vazquez-Suomala want schools to address current social issues such as racism, consent, sexual assault and harassment and offer ethnic studies. “I am hopeful that we will make changes that we know are much needed … COVID-19 has given us a platform we need for reform and changes within our schools.”
 
Rev. Dr. Fel Cao, CNUMC director of Camping and Retreat Ministries and Young People’s Ministry, reflected on the impact that children and youth ministry has in the church and world.
 
“We are helping children become prophetic voices,” said Rev. Dr. Cao, “…we are all in this together in forming the children … who are becoming model citizens of this country, who will embrace integration, embrace equality and equity and inclusion of all …”