Spirituality Finds a Place in the New Schoolhouse

Spirituality Finds a Place in the New ‘Schoolhouse’



Sunlight streams through the kitchen window of the Serwatka home, illuminating the countertop that serves as 8-year-old Dominic’s classroom desk. His feet barely touch the crossbar of the stool as he watches his teacher on his iPad.

For many children like Dominic, education is now presented and received at dining room tables, in kitchens, basements, and bedrooms: the new “schoolhouse.”

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 education through spiritual activities.

“The pandemic upended our entire educational system,” said Greta Hawkins, principal of P.S. 90, The Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness in Brooklyn, New York. “Parents must 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.”

“When the pandemic hit, I was panicking because I didn’t know how I was going to deal with this, since my husband and I both work,” said Jodi Serwatka, who attends a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Warren, Michigan. “Dominic was wondering why he couldn’t go to school.”

The Antil family has enlivened their “schoolhouse” with creative and spiritual activities. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES



Other parents have acknowledged the difficulties that stay-at-home orders have created. Jennifer Antil from New Hampshire faced these challenges by incorporating spiritual topics into the education of their three daughters, ages 13, 15, and 18. They made a virtual visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a Bible tour and started research projects on historical figures in the Bible like Queen Esther.

Although the Antils have not been immune to the friction brought about by the forced closeness of quarantine, Jennifer says that a spiritual outlook has smoothed the road for her family. “We, of course, get on each other’s nerves,” Jennifer said, “but this has truly helped us to practice forgiveness and patience.”

Some families have found that the best education happens beyond the walls of their “schoolhouse”—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.

Ronald and Neshea Thomas of New Jersey, two Witnesses who are themselves public school teachers, have leveraged such a collaborative approach in the remote education of their ten-year-old daughter, Aliysha. In order to prevent Aliysha from becoming isolated, they have become part of an online community of fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses who are in similar situations. Neshea said, “We participate in art parties, exercise and singing games, and online virtual tours of various lands.” Most recently they toured Egypt. To make the experience more fun and immersive, Aliysha and the other children made costumes and dressed as ancient Egyptians.

For the Thomas family, project-based learning means immersive activities and engagement with their community of fellow Witnesses.  PHOTO COURTESY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES



For the Thomas family, community engagement is essential to distance learning. Aliysha regularly calls elderly ones in her congregation to talk and ask if they need anything. In one recent conversation, Aliysha and her mother learned that their friend’s favorite color is yellow. Soon after, they went out to buy her a scarf and flowers in that color. Neshea credits the Bible principle, “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” Ronald and Neshea want their daughter to receive a good education but, more importantly, to become a well-rounded person—emotionally, mentally, spiritually—and “to be a caring person.”

“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.

Eric and Bethany Monda, from Connecticut, have found this to be true in the case of their two daughters, Chloe, 9, and Haley, 11. Eric said, “We have found that it helps to keep a somewhat consistent schedule. In the morning, the girls read the daily text [a booklet published by Jehovah’s Witnesses containing a Bible verse and brief explanation] and then watch the school’s morning announcements to start their day.”

During free time throughout the day, the Mondas have found opportunities for Chloe and Haley to do various “extras.” Chloe, for example, has put together slide presentations and reports on various animals, which she presents to the family. The girls have also supplemented their science lessons with the Was It Designed? video series on jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As music class has been suspended in their school district, Eric has been teaching Chloe to play guitar. Haley has been learning to play original songs from jw.org on the piano.


A good routine and a healthy supply of spiritual material from jw.org help the Mondas keep their distance learning on track.  PHOTO COURTESY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES




The Mondas have also taken advantage of virtual opportunities outside the four walls of their “classroom.” Virtual field trips have helped them to explore Bible topics at the British Museum, the Georgia Aquarium, and even on African safari.

“We all hope they’ll get back to a more typical school routine at some point,” said Bethany, “but in the meantime, we are confident they’ll continue to work hard, growing in knowledge both spiritually and academically.”

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.


U.S. Spokesman:

Robert J. Hendriks




Regional Spokesman:

Dan Sideris



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