Supporting students in the church during COVID-19: a message from Italy
As soon as the restrictions were put in place as a result of COVID -19 here in Italy, we realised that we needed to review how we worked with students.
Three things that we did immediately:
we changed our weekly meetings to being held online (Zoom)
we provided other oppurtunities for creating an online community (games night, cookery lessons, virtual coffee shop...)
we put in place a system to keep in contact with individual students (phone calls, Facebook messages, Whatsapp etc)
A month into lock-down, here are some things we have learnt:
it is possible to create a community in spite of the restrictions. Our relationship with some students is actually stronger in many ways.
everyone reacts to the situation differently so wisdom is needed as to how to allow one person to express their fears without that becoming a stumbling block for others.
not everyone has the same access to the internet. Zoom has been a wonderful gift to us, but some students cannot take part because of financial hardship or difficult living conditions. This is when maintaining the personal contact through phone calls or Whatsapp (which uses much less data) is so essential.
students appreciate suggestions as to how to keep fit and well. A number of students spend up to 9 hours a day in front of a computer screen, studying. As any social contact also has to be on screen, some find that taking part in another online meeting is too much of a strain. It is important to teach students how to stay well during this period: through healthy eating, keeping to a routine, physical exercise etc. Also they need to be taught how to keep spiritually healthy in ways other than spending more time on screen (e.g. a daily reading plan, Christian literature, and support in developing their personal prayer time).
concentrating while on screen is much harder. Millenials are used to having 10 screens open at once while on their computers, and are able to jump from work to Instagram to music and back to their work in 10 seconds. So giving their full concentration to an on screen Bible study doesn’t come naturally, and is a skill that needs to be learnt.
we have had to change the way we teach online. We now usually swap activities every 15 minutes or so (listening, discussing, reading, writing something down....) in order to hold their attention.
this is a wonderful opportunity for students to serve in new ways. It was the students who first adapted to a new way of meeting as a community and this, in turn, has been of tremendous help to the rest of the church showing them how to adapt. For example one of our students phoned several older church members who needed guidance as to how to download and use the Zoom app.