The phrase “thinking outside the box” would be an appropriate way to sum up 2020. Seven days into the New Year that phrase still fits, particularly when it comes to educating our children during this pandemic.

While students have been forced to learn in place via virtual school during this pandemic, community members and concerned parents worry that virtual learning isn’t quite cutting it for all students. To help ease the burden of those parents and students who would benefit from a little extra help, the Shippensburg Community Resource Coalition (SCRC) and the Newburg United Methodist Church have put their heads together and come up with an outside-the-box learning alternative.

The Community Classroom is a place where those who need a little extra help when it comes to virtual schooling, can go and receive the learning support they need, as well as physical and emotional support.

Rev. Judi Herrold, pastor of Newburg United Methodist Church, has spearheaded the effort to bring the Community Classroom setting to fruition, and for a dozen students, Monday, Jan. 4 was the first day of school inside the Newburg church. The classroom is open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. during the week, with students arriving as early as 7:30 a.m.

“Last spring at the onset of the pandemic, I began attending the conference calls/Zoom meetings hosted by SCRC on a weekly basis. The meetings were attended by lots of folks -- volunteers, Shippensburg Area School District employees, church folks, and business folks, and basically anyone who wanted to contribute to the well-being of the community, children, seniors and families in general. The calls focused on the concerns of the community, basic concerns such as food, housing, transportation, schooling and employment,” Herrold explained. “The talks continued over the summer,  and with the thought that schools may not come back to 100 percent in-person, I began talking to members of my church about the possibility of doing some type of classroom setting/learning here at the church.”

Herrold also noted a portion of the building was once an elementary school, so it was a perfect solution to a growing need/concern in the district. Along with the school setting, the church also has green space. 

“The church is gifted in hospitality, and so all of the pieces came together, and I continued to attend the meetings and ask questions about what the needs were in the communities and how we might be able to work together to make something happen, things grew from there,” Herrold said.

She said when it became more evident that students would not return to in-person learning due to the percentages of positive COVID cases, illness and deaths in the counties in which the school district serves (Cumberland and Franklin), they began to look at what they could do to make the idea a reality. “We (the church) can provide things that the school district cannot right now, things like extra space that would include 6-foot distancing, even with masking The school district simply doesn’t have the extra space to do that.”

Herrold, with help from church members, began mapping out space in the big room, which was formerly the cafeteria/gymnasium of the elementary school. The room can fit 27 students, each at a 6-foot table, spaced 6 feet apart. The church provides electric, extension cords and other needed supplies to ensure the students have everything they need for virtual learning -- including essentials like restrooms, writing materials and hand sanitizer. The school district has also provided Chromebooks for students to use.

The target groups for the community classroom right now are middle- and high school-age students who are disconnected and disengaged with virtual learning. The community classroom is open five days a week, with certain days set aside for targeted learning. Herrold said students don’t have to come five days a week, but they certainly encourage it, noting that Wednesday is a more flexible day in that the students don’t receive instruction on a schedule that day. She said everything is voluntary and it is a free service, partnering with the community that will hopefully help alleviate some of the stress, anxiety, depression and other issues that parents have reported are increasing with children not able to attend in-person classes during this pandemic.

Herrold said the school district has been very supportive of the Community Classroom so far, and she anticipates, and hopes, once more people are aware of the Community Classroom and its availability, they will receive more inquiries and be able to help more students. She stressed that there are no teachers at the Community Classroom, just adult supervisors. “There is a community classroom coordinator who will continue to bridge into the community, and to-date, I have been the contact for the school district for parents, and the classroom coordinator has been the kid piece, helping to map out the room, as well, hooking up the electric, helping coordinate the meal aspect of it, and being attentive in the classroom. There are always two adults in the room at all times,” Herrold noted.

She also said the classroom coordinator is a paid position, which she is currently accepting applications for. The position is currently being filled by Frank Heberlig, a church staff member who is volunteering his time, and also happens to have a degree in education.

Anyone interested in having their students participate in the Community Classroom, or would like more information can contact Herrold at: (717) 423-6223, or by emailing: newburgumc@kuhncom.net.

If someone is unable to answer the phone, Herrold asks that you leave a message with your contact information, and someone will return your call. Herrold is the initial contact, while Janelle Carbaugh, the social worker within the school district, is the bridge between the two. Herrold passes the information along to Carbaugh and the process continues from there. Families must fill out enrollment forms and other paperwork prior to their student joining the classroom. 

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