Tigard UMC creates digital hub for neighborhood students

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Signs and sanitizer greet students who enter the Tigard UMC Learning Hub for additional help with online learning

It seems almost too easy to be a mission project amid a pandemic.

But when it came to setting up a digital learning hub for students in the neighborhood, everyone at Tigard UMC can’t believe how easy it was to say “yes” to re-imagining how to use their church space and respond to a need in the community by supporting middle school students with online learning.

“It’s one of the fastest-moving ideas we’ve had in our church,” said Samantha Harmon, chairperson of the Tigard UMC church council.

Rev. Jeremy Hajdu-Paulen said the church was approached by a community member concerned with the gap in learning that has happened for students in the pandemic. This community member approached another church, which quickly set up a hub to help one of the three middle schools in Tigard.

Rev. Jeremy Hajdu-Paulen preached recently from the Learning Hub set up for middle school students at Tigard UMC.

The attention then turned to Tigard UMC.

“She contacted us because she knew of our reputation in the community for doing things for our neighbors,” Hajdu-Paulen said.

Within a month, the church was able to raise the funds to create The Learning Hub and hire two part-time instructors, while converting two areas of the building into classroom spaces. They host 10-12 students two mornings a week and one volunteer joins them. Their plan to use their building in this manner was also approved by their district superintendent, per the Greater Northwest Area “Reimagining Life Together” guidelines.

Hajdu-Paulen said the church council was overwhelmingly supportive of the idea and worked with the community member, who partnered with the school district and the middle school to identify students in need of extra support in their online learning. The schools in Tigard are just beginning to move to a hybrid model of online and in-person learning.

The church provides the internet access, socially-distanced desks and instructional support as the students all have district-issued iPads. Hajdu-Paulen said it turned out that many of the students coming to The Learning Hub are from the apartment buildings next-door to the church. Tigard UMC has partnered with their neighbors on a few initiatives before, so this felt like a natural extension of that connection.

“I can’t tell you how delighted our congregation is,” Hajdu-Paulen said. “People understand this is part of our mission.”

Harmon has two children who are 10 and 13 and have been doing remote and/or hybrid learning for the better part of a year.

“I totally understand the struggle with online learning,” she said. “I’ve just seen first-hand the difficulty of it.”

Harmon said she wishes the church could have done something sooner but is so happy that they’re doing it now and grateful to see Tigard UMC continue to be in ministry even when they can’t gather.

“We have this giant, empty building that’s not being used,” she said.

When the pandemic is behind everyone, Hajdu-Paulen said he hopes it’s just as easy for the church to continue supporting its neighbors through more partnerships and ministry opportunities.

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