The soft buzz of a computer fan fills the Minden guest bedroom of the Lewis home, where 15-year-old Alexander is attending his final online class of the day. As the clock strikes one o’clock, he closes out of the virtual classroom and begins tackling his homework assignments.
For many children like Alexander Lewis and his older brother Griffin, education is now presented and received at dining room tables, in kitchens, basements, and bedrooms: the new “school house.”
But 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 educationthrough spiritual activities. “The pandemic upended our entire educational system,” said Greta Hawkins, principalof P.S. 90 The Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness in Brooklyn, New York. “Parentsmust realize that now more than ever they need to take a proactive interest in their child’s education.”
For many parents accustomed to sending their children off to a school each morning, taking a more active role in their child’s education has been one of the most difficult challenges of this “new normal.”
Joel and Mercedes Lewis, who attend a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Minden, had already enrolled theirteenagers in online school before the pandemic began. When making the transition, they were most concernedabout the quality of their children’s schooling. "We wanted to make sure we felt like we were giving our children agood education,” explained Mercedes, “and we also wanted them to feel like they were getting a good education.”
Now, the family’s challenges are more social than academic. Prior to the stay-at-home order, Alexander and Griffin enjoyed spending time with their friends outside of their home classroom. “I would meet up with friends in person so that we could study for tests together and play basketball,” said Alexander. Now their activities are confined to one place–home. Despite the challenges, the new circumstances have allowed the Witness family to include spiritual activities as a part of the children’s daily education.
The Lewis’s have also been able to combat pandemic fatigue by maintaining a positive attitude. “We don’t dwell on the negatives. We don’t complain about the situation we’re in,” explained Mercedes. “We choose to wake up joyful as often as we can.”
As the pandemic surged into the Reno area and their congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses moved to online meetings, Joel and Mercedes looked for ways to ensure their children would remain mentally, emotionally, and spiritually balanced. The family has taken advantage of technology like videoconferencing to help their sons staysocially connected. “They’ll have Zoom get-togethers with their friends. They’ll play online games together,” explained Joel. “That makes a huge difference.”
“They’re very close with their cousins–some that are in New York, some that are in other places,” added Mercedes. “They frequently talk together over Zoom or other face-timing applications so that they are interacting with other people every day.”
“Witness parents are handling their children’s education in a way that is worthy of imitation, perhaps because they have always had a structured educational program for their congregation meetings,” said Principal Hawkins, who attends a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn. Providing a structured education—spiritually and academically—is a way of life for the Lewis’s. They have made it a practice to include spiritual activities as a regular feature of their children’s education.
“The school system that they’re part of has a good schedule,” said Joel. “It has required, on our part, making sure that there are activities for them to stay busy–not just in school, but physically active and spiritually active.” To accomplish this, Joel and Mercedes have scheduled specific times for class, Bible reading, physical exercise, and family activities. “You have to be disciplined to be successful in life,” explained Mercedes. “We wanted to make sure that there was structure to every day.”
Both before and during the pandemic, the homeschool arrangement has allowed the Lewis’s to become a more tight-knit familyunit. “We love being together as a family,” said Joel. “For us, it’s been a blessing, just having more time together.”