Half of churches say Sunday school, other education programs disrupted by pandemic

Half of churches say Sunday school, other education programs disrupted by pandemic

(RNS) — Sunday school and other Christian education programs have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, with half of congregations surveyed saying their programs were disrupted.

A March 2022 survey by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that larger churches with more than 100 people were more successful in maintaining their educational programming for children and youth, often using in-person or hybrid options. Smaller churches, especially those with 50 or fewer attendees, were least likely to say they continued religious education without disruption.

Scott Thumma, principal investigator of the Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations project, said the findings echoed concerns about general education of schoolchildren, where researchers have seen declines in learning over the last two years.

“My sense is that people knew what good robust Sunday school was or what a successful vacation Bible school was,” said Thumma, drawing in part on open-ended comments in the survey. “And they couldn’t parallel that using Zoom or using livestreaming or using take-home boxes of activities. It just wasn’t the same thing. And so when they evaluated it, it just didn’t measure up to what they previously knew as the standard of a good quality religious education program.”

The findings are the third installment in the five-year project, a collaboration with 13 denominations from the Faith Communities Today cooperative partnership and institute staffers.

The new report, “Religious Education During the Pandemic: A Tale of Challenge and Creativity,” is based on responses from 615 congregations across 31 denominations.

Comparing data from 2019, churches surveyed in March 2022 reported that the attendance of their religious education programs had decreased an average of 30% among children younger than 13 and 40% among youth, ages 13-17.

“Analysis showed that those who closed their programs had the greatest decline in involvement even after they restarted,” the new report states. “Likewise, churches that moved religious education online lost a higher percentage of participants than churches who modified their efforts with safety protocols but continued meeting in person either outdoors or in small groups.”

The report notes that it’s not surprising the smallest churches experienced the most disruption in their religious education, given the decline in volunteer numbers and additional stresses on clergy during the pandemic.

“In the smallest churches (1-50 attendees) pastors were most likely in charge of the religious education programs, while for those between 51 and 100 worshippers, volunteers bore the bulk of leadership responsibilities,” according to the report.

Overall, evangelical churches reported experiencing the least disruption to their educational programs, while mainline churches reported the most, followed by Catholic and Orthodox congregations.

Vacation Bible school, long a staple of congregational outreach to local communities, has also been shaken by COVID-19. More than a third (36%) of churches offered such programs prior to the pandemic. That number decreased to 17% in 2020 and jumped back to 36% in the summer of 2021. Slightly less than a third (31%) reported VBS plans for 2022.

While children’s programming was greatly affected by congregational change during the pandemic, adult religious programs saw the smallest decreases compared with pre-pandemic levels, with a quarter growing since 2019 and an almost equal percentage (23%) remaining even.

But, as with children’s programs, churches with 50 or fewer worshippers saw the greatest loss in adult religious education, while those with more than 250 in worship attendance increased their adult programs by an average of 19%.

Some congregations reported moving Sunday school activities to weeknights or vacation Bible schools from weekday mornings to later hours, with mixed results.

“One said they ‘went from a typical 200+ kids to about 35,’” the report notes, and they “’shortened the number of days and moved VBS to the afternoon.’”

Thumma said innovations including intergenerational and kid-friendly programming helped sustain programs for people of all ages in some congregations. These included revamping of the children’s message time during worship to be more inclusive or older members greeting children who run by during Zoom sessions. Some churches called their all-ages activities “messy church” or “Sunday Funday” as they used interactive educational events.

“It becomes, out of necessity, intergenerational because that allows you to have robust energy and lots of people there,” he said. “But it really is directed at the kids being involved in the life of the congregation in a way that isn’t, like, ‘OK, you go to your class’ and ‘you go to your classes,’ and the classes don’t ever mingle.”

Whether creative steps such as new intergenerational activity will continue remains to be seen, Thumma added.

“I think it should because that’s a valuable strategy,” he said. “One of the things that we’ve seen in lots of our research is the more intergenerational the congregation is, the more it has a diversity of any degree, the more likely they are to be vital and thriving.”

The findings in the new report of the project, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment, have an estimated overall margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM

Students of color in special education are less likely to get the help they need – here are 3 ways teachers can do better

Students of color in special education are less likely to get the help they need – here are 3 ways teachers can do better

Conversations around race and disability often get left out of schools. FG Trade/E+ via Getty Images
Mildred Boveda, Penn State

When I was a special education teacher at Myrtle Grove Elementary School in Miami in 2010, my colleagues and I recommended that a Black girl receive special education services because she had difficulty reading. However, her mother disagreed. When I asked her why, she explained that she, too, was identified as having a learning disability when she was a student.

She was put in a small classroom away from her other classmates. She remembered reading books below her grade level and frequent conflicts between her classmates and teachers. Because of this, she believed she received a lower-quality education. She didn’t want her daughter to go through the same experience.

Ultimately, the mother and I co-designed an individualized education plan – known in the world of special education as an IEP – for her daughter where she would be pulled out of class for only an hour a day for intensive reading instruction.

When compared to white students with disabilities, students of color with disabilities are more likely to be placed in separate classrooms. This may lead to lower educational outcomes for students of color in special education, as students with disabilities perform better in math and reading when in general education classrooms.

A student of color with down syndrome uses a tablet in the classroom.
Students with disabilities perform better academically when placed in general education classes. Robin Bartholick via Tetra images/GettyImages

Researchers, such as University of Arizona education scholar Adai Tefera and CUNY-Hunter College sociologist of education Catherine Voulgarides, argue that systemic racism – as well as biased interpretations of the behavior of students of color – explains these discrepancies. For example, when compared to students with similar test scores, Black students with disabilities are less likely to be included in the general education classroom than their non-Black peers. To curb this, teachers can take steps toward being more inclusive of students of color with disabilities.

As a Black feminist researcher who focuses on the intersection of race and disability, here are three recommendations I believe can help teachers to better support students of color with disabilities.

1. Inform families of their rights

Federal law requires that schools provide parents and guardians with Procedural Safeguards Notices, a full explanation of all the rights a parent has when their child is referred to or receives special education services. These notices need to be put in writing and explained to families in “language that is easily understandable.”

However, research shows that in many states, Procedural Safeguards Notices are written in ways that are difficult to read. This can make it harder for families, especially immigrant families, to know their rights. Also, families of color report facing greater resistance when making requests for disability services than white families do.

When meeting with families, teachers can take the time to break down any confusing language written in the Procedural Safeguards Notice. This can assure that the families of students of color are fully aware of their options.

For example, families have the right to invite an external advocate to represent their interests during meetings with school representatives. These advocates can speak on behalf of the family and often help resolve disagreements between the schools and families.

Educators can tell families about organizations that serve children with disabilities and help them navigate school systems. The Color of Autism, The Arc and Easterseals are striving to address racial inequities in who has access to advocacy supports. These organizations create culturally responsive resources and connect families of color with scholarships to receive training on how to advocate for themselves.

2. Talk about race and disability

Despite the growing diversity within K-12 classrooms, conversations around race are often left out of special education. This leaves a lack of attention toward the issues that students of color face, like higher suspension rates and lower grades and test scores than their white peers in special education.

When teachers talk about race and disability with their colleagues, it can help reduce implicit biases they may have. Also, dialogue about race and disability can help to reduce negative school interactions with students of color with disabilities.

Arizona State University teacher educator Andrea Weinberg and I developed protocols that encourage educators to talk about race, disability, class and other social identities with each other. These include questions for teachers such as:

Do any of your students of color have an IEP?

Has a student with disabilities or their family shared anything about their cultural background that distinguishes them from their peers?

Are there patterns of students not responding to instruction?

The protocols also encourage educators to consider their own social identities and how those may shape how they interpret students’ behaviors and academic needs:

Who do you collaborate with to help you better understand and respond to students’ diverse needs?

In what ways are students and teachers benefiting from the diversity represented in the classroom?

Educators using these questions in the Southwest, for example, say they help a mostly white teacher workforce understand their role in disrupting inequities. One study participant said, “These things are not addressed, and they’re not talked about among faculty.”

3. Highlight people of color with disabilities in the classroom

Often, classroom content depicts disabled people – especially those of color – as people at the margins of society. For example, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Tom Robinson, a Black character with a physical disability, is killed after being falsely accused of a crime. Teachers can incorporate thoughtful examples of disabled people of color in their lesson plans to help students better understand their experiences.

When teaching about Harriet Tubman, educators can mention how she freed enslaved people while coping with the lifelong effects of a head injury. Tubman’s political activism provides a historical example of disabled people of color who helped improve society for all.

A man and a woman in a wheelchair pose together next to a painting.
Famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo suffered from spinal and pelvic damage after a bus accident. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid/flickr

Art teachers can highlight Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and how she boldly addressed her physical disabilities in self-portraits. Disabled people’s experiences are frequently shown from the perspective of people without disabilities. In her art, Kahlo displayed herself with bandages and sitting in a wheelchair. Her portraits featured her own reactions to having disabilities.

Physical education teachers can discuss current events, such as recent news about Olympian Simone Biles’s attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety. Her openness has sparked international conversations about less noticeable disabilities.

Teaching students about the contributions that disabled people of color make to our society emphasizes that neither race nor disability should be equated with inferiority.The Conversation

Mildred Boveda, Associate Professor of Special Education, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What do students’ beliefs about God have to do with grades and going to college?

What do students’ beliefs about God have to do with grades and going to college?

How do students’ religious lives influence their academic ones? Image Source via Getty Images
Ilana Horwitz, Tulane University

In America, the demographic circumstances of a child’s birth substantially shape academic success. Sociologists have spent decades studying how factors beyond students’ control – including the race, wealth and ZIP code of their parents – affect their educational opportunities and achievement.

But one often overlooked demographic factor is religion. The U.S. is the most devout wealthy Western democracy. Does a religious upbringing influence teens’ academic outcomes?

Over the past 30 years, sociologists and economists have conducted several studies that consistently show a positive relationship between religiosity and academic success. These studies show that more religious students earn better grades and complete more schooling than less religious peers. But researchers debate what these findings really mean, and whether the seeming effect of religiosity on students’ performance is really about religion, or a result of other underlying factors.

My latest research underscores that religion has a powerful but mixed impact. Intensely religious teens – who some researchers call “abiders” – are more likely than average to earn higher GPAs and complete more college education. By religious intensity, I refer to whether people see religion as very important, attend religious services at least once a week, pray at least once a day, and believe in God with absolute certainty. Theological belief on its own is not enough to influence how children behave – they also need to be part of a religious community. Adolescents who see an academic benefit both believe and belong.

On average though, abiders who have excellent grades tend to attend less selective colleges than their less religious peers with similar GPAs and from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds.

The takeaway from these findings is not meant to encourage people to become more religious or to promote religion in schools. Rather, they point to a particular set of mindsets and habits that help abiders succeed – and qualities that schools reward in their students.

Religious landscape

People of any religion can demonstrate religious intensity. But the research in my book “God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success” centers on Christian denominations because they are the most prevalent in the U.S., with about 63% of Americans identifying as Christian. Also, surveys about religion tend to reflect a Christian-centric view, such as by emphasizing prayer and faith over other kinds of religious observance. Therefore, Christian respondents are more likely to appear as highly religious, simply based on the wording of the questions.

Based on a 2019 Pew survey and other studies, I estimate that about one-quarter of American teenagers are intensely religious. This number also accounts for people’s tendency to say they attend religious services more than they actually do.

The abider advantage

In my book, I examined whether intensely religious teens had different academic outcomes, focusing on three measures: secondary school GPA; likelihood of completing college; and college selectivity.

First, I analyzed survey data collected by the National Study of Youth and Religion, which followed 3,290 teens from 2003 to 2012. After grouping participants by religious intensity and analyzing their grades, I found that on average, abiders had about a 10 percentage-point advantage.

For example, among working-class teens, 21% of abiders reported earning A’s, compared with 9% of nonabiders. Abiders were more likely to earn better grades even after accounting for various other background factors, including race, gender, geographic region and family structure.

Then working with survey measurement expert Ben Domingue and sociologist Kathleen Mullan Harris, I used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to see how more and less religious children from the same families performed. According to our analysis, more intensely religious teens earned higher GPAs in high school, on average, even compared with their own siblings.

But why?

Scholars like sociologist Christian Smith have theorized that increased religiosity deters young people from risky behaviors, connects them to more adults and provides them more leadership opportunities. However, I found that including survey measures for these aspects of teens’ lives did not fully explain why abiders were earning better GPAs.

To better understand, I went back to the National Study of Youth and Religion, or NSYR, and analyzed 10 years of interviews with over 200 teens, all of whom had been assigned individual IDs to link their survey and interview responses.

Many abiders made comments about constantly working to emulate and please God, which led them to try to be conscientious and cooperative. This aligns with previous research showing that religiousness is positively correlated with these traits.

Studies have underscored how habits like conscientiousness and cooperation are linked with academic success, in part because teachers value respect. These traits are helpful in a school system that relies on authority figures and rewards people who follow the rules.

A teenage boy in a blue shirt works on an assignment in class.
Traits like cooperation can play an important role in students’ success. Will & Deni McIntyre/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

Post-graduation plans

Next, I wanted to know more about students’ college outcomes, starting with where they enrolled. I did this by matching the NSYR data to the National Student Clearinghouse to get detailed information about how many semesters of college respondents had completed, and where.

On average, abiders were more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than nonabiders, since success in high school sets them up for success in college – as also shown by my analyses of siblings. The bump varies by socioeconomic status, but among working-class and middle-class teens, abiders are more than 1 ½ to 2 times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than nonabiders.

Another dimension of academic success is the quality of the college one graduates from, which is commonly measured by selectivity. The more selective the institutions from which students graduate, the more likely they are to pursue graduate degrees and to secure high paying jobs.

On average, abiders who earned A’s graduated from slightly less selective colleges: schools whose incoming freshman class had an average SAT score of 1135, compared with 1176 at nonabiders’.

My analysis of the interview data revealed that many abiders, especially girls from middle-upper-class families, were less likely to consider selective colleges. In interviews, religious teens over and over mention life goals of parenthood, altruism and serving God – priorities that I argue make them less intent on attending as highly selective a college as they could. This aligns with previous research showing that conservative Protestant women attend colleges that less selective than other women do because they do not tend to view college’s main purpose as career advancement.

Grades without God

Being a good rule follower yields better report cards – but so can other dispositions.

My research also shows that teens who say that God does not exist earn grades that are not statistically different from abiders’ grades. Atheist teens make up a very small proportion of the NSYR sample: 3%, similar to the low rates of American adults who say they don’t believe in God.

In fact, there is a strong stigma attached to atheism. The kinds of teens who are willing to go against the grain by taking an unpopular religious view are also the kinds of teens who are curious and self-driven. NSYR interviews revealed that rather than being motivated to please God by being well behaved, atheists tend to be intrinsically motivated to pursue knowledge, think critically and be open to new experiences. These dispositions are also linked with better academic performance. And unlike abiders, atheists tend to be overrepresented in the most elite universities.The Conversation

Ilana Horwitz, Assistant Professor, Fields-Rayant Chair in Contemporary Jewish Life, Tulane University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: An Interview with Michael Phillips

Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns: An Interview with Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips is the Chief Engagement Officer of the TD Jakes Foundation, a well respected pastor and education advocate. But his journey was not easy or simple. His book Wrong Lanes Have Right Turns details his journey, his context, and his perspective on one of the most important topics for us everyday: how to educate our children and dismantle the school to prison pipeline. He masterfully blends personal stories with scripture, statistics, history, and context to help us understand and impact the education system. Check out the full interview above!

You can get the book here

Ready to Raise Your GPA: An Interview with Jonathan Banks

Ready to Raise Your GPA: An Interview with Jonathan Banks

Across the world students, teachers, parents, professors, pastors, and caregivers are beginning a new year facing numerous challenges. The uncertainty of the pandemic, the logistics of classes, and the worries about the economy are one thing. But the larger questions about purpose, relationships, and faith impact us far beyond the classroom year after year. UrbanFaith interviewed Jonathan Banks, author of Raise Your GPA about how we can have success this school year and beyond. The full interview is above.

From Football Field to Mission Field: Interview with Benjamin, Asa, & Rev. Kenneth Watson

From Football Field to Mission Field: Interview with Benjamin, Asa, & Rev. Kenneth Watson

Benjamin Watson is a Superbowl Champion and former NFL Player who is outspoken about his faith and has turned to speaking and sharing it full time in retirement. His brother Asa Watson is a former NFL player who is now a full time missionary. But both of them were formed for the football field and mission field by their father Rev. Ken Watson.

UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura sat down with the Watson men to discuss how their upbringing contributed to their success and what they are doing now in ministry.