The Pilgrim Congregational Church, in Harwich Port, MA, has made changes to their afterschool care program due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With schools and churches closed, the afterschool care program has moved to online programming to keep children engaged and offer time for parents to attend to other demands.
The switch in programming is consistent with the way the Pilgrim afterschool program has developed in the past 3 years.
"We became very specialized not by choice, but by need," said Deb Larsson, director of the afterschool program.
The program began 3 years ago when a group from the church looked into the idea of developing an afterschool program for the region. It became clear that there was a need for afterschool care for younger elementary-aged student. The local recreation program was full and had a waiting list. In addition, some special needs children needed a place where they could be successful.
The church created a grant to seed the program and hired Larsson to develop and run it. Space was designated in the church building for the afterschool children. When the program started, there was one registered student. Word spread and relationships were built. By the fall of 2019, 22 students were registered for the program. The program had also successfully incorporated several special needs children. By March 2020, there were 37 students ranging from kindergarten to grade 4. A bus from the local elementary school had a regular stop at the church afterschool. Some of those children in the program even came from neighboring towns.
Then the Covid-19 disease struck. The pandemic shut down schools, businesses and public spaces. Churches were forced to halt all in-person services.
But the children, and their parents, still needed something to break the routine of the day.
So, Pilgrim's afterschool program went online. Two days a week, Larsson and her staff run online activities through media sites such as Google Classroom and Zoom. The have students participate in Lego building challenges, building their creations at home while online with other students and sharing what they've made. Others are writing original stories and sharing them. There are games and other activities for kids to play as well. Larsson does not want the program to be just like school, she said. She wants it to be fun and engaging. She also has incorporated a few activities which connect the program to church life, though many of the students' families that do not attend the church.
So far, Larsson has seen around 16 children each week, mostly from younger grades, she reports. She also says the program will continue online through the the summer.
Larsson say the best part of the new online program is "being able to continue to see and talk with the kids, to ask them questions, answer their questions, watch them change, watch them grow and hopefully help them see the good, the gifts, the positive in this time."
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Drew Page is a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer deaning at Silver Lake Conference Center with his wife, Debby.