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134-Year-Old Church Becomes Virtual School

In 2020, Coronavirus quickly changed schools across the United States. Children were sent home in March and many started a new school year online. As parents seek socialization and academic support for their children, churches buildings that normally sit empty during the week are suddenly the center of activity in neighborhoods.

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Historic Denton’s Chapel United Methodist Church looks like an old fashioned neighborhood schoolhouse. Inside, children are doing their lessons online with the help of their learning pod teacher Jake Botts, a young man grateful to land a paying gig during a global pandemic.

Jake helping child: “Spell that out different.”

Jake Botts, Learning Pod Teacher: “So, under normal circumstances I’m a musician. I’m a saxophone player. So obviously, live music was the first thing to go and probably the last thing to come back... (alarm goes off) I need to get Lila and Gage onto a zoom meeting.”

At the beginning of each day, Botts sets timers to keep up with online zoom classes for 6 children 3rd – 7th grade. He also helps with homework and enrichment activities during the downtime between classes.

Jake to child painting: “Do you want the water closer so you can reach it better?”

Families in this quiet neighborhood quarantined together all summer and wanted a neighborhood school during this time of isolation.

Caitlin Congdon: “I run by the chapel almost every day but I have actually never attended church here.”

Denton’s Chapel sits empty all week.

Caitlin Congdon, Parent: “In times of Covid, I definitely know that the churches are struggling and parents are struggling. So, it’s a way that they we can support one another. We’re providing a donation to the church here.”

Pastor Jim Mathews, a retired teacher and principal, is all for the idea. Covid shut the church down for months and elderly members have been slow to return. The school is bringing new life to the 134-year-old church.

Janet Carney: “We still have our group of kids meeting down there for their virtual schooling. It’s a wonderful group of kids and their teacher who is getting them through their virtual schooling.”

Neighborhood families hope to meet the congregation when Wednesday night church dinners resume right here in what is for now a classroom.

Caitlin Congdon: “We decided that we really want to stay connected to the church. So once we’re done with (hopefully) seeing Covid, we still want to have a relationship with the church and be able to have the kids be here and interact with the members, actually continue to support one another and the community.”


Children featured in this story attend Metro Nashville public schools. If your church is interested in starting a virtual school, follow your church guidelines for any background checks on volunteers who work with children.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was first posted on September 1, 2020.

Related video: Church Opens Doors to Virtual Learning

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