Despite a COVID bump in the road, nearly 20 area churches are moving forward with their HISD collaboration to provide students and parents with much-needed educational support.

The initiative, dubbed Sanctuaries of Learning, has 16 United Methodist churches and a few from other denominations partnering with elementary schools in their respective neighborhoods to provide a safe space for students to participate in virtual learning while their parents go to work.  

“Our Black and Brown students are going to be the ones hurt when there’s a glitch in the educational system, so we have to do everything in our power to make sure they get the education they deserve,” said Ed Jones, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, which is serving nearby Blackshear Elementary students.

“With COVID, there’s the potential that our children can fall 1-2 years behind. We can’t allow that to happen. Our future is at stake.”

According to Linda Davis, pastor of Boynton United Methodist Church, Sanctuaries of Learning are literally sanctuaries of safety.

“Many of these kids come to our vacation bible school, and their parents visit our food pantry and clothing distribution center,” said Davis. “If we’re helping parents in those ways, then why not assist them in education as well.”

Davis said her church and others provide program space, volunteers, internet access and more.

“Many of the kids in this community, even if they get a laptop from the school, don’t have internet or anyone who knows how to log them on. ‘Sanctuaries’ provides a positive learning environment. The kids have been diligent about wearing masks and doing classwork, and HISD staff on-hand have been great.”

Recently, a participant at Trinity UMC tested positive for COVID. But according to Jones, Trinity’s safety protocols allowed for parents to continue dropping off their children for school, with no break in services.

“All parents were notified and had the option to operate remotely with HISD ready to provide internet hotspots. But they chose to continue sending their children to Trinity,” shared Jones, who is looking for ways to recruit more community partners to expand the supports provided to students.