Faith has always been a foundational part of the Johnson family’s day. Before the pandemic, they got ready for work and school while listening to spiritual music that was upbeat and provided a strong message to get them in the right headspace for the day.
After COVID-19 swept across Louisiana, Furnell and Monica Johnson decided to keep their youngest children home rather than send them to a busy school building. With Monica working from home, too, she could serve as “learning coach” for her two elementary-age daughters as they took classes through Lafayette Online Academy.
“It’s work,” Monica admits. “I appreciate it, because we’re able to get school done. But it’s hands-on for everybody.”
The oldest two of their five children are done with school and living at home, so they’ve been pitching in to help their siblings, their mom said.
Every day they gather at the same table with Monica, a nurse, completing charts online and Jadon, Mariah and Monae doing their schoolwork next to her. But before they dive into their classes or work, they dig into a devotional as a family.
“We wake up and do our spiritual routine,” Monica said. “We’re reading a book called ‘Learn From The Great Teacher.’ We can start the day off right, get their mind right. (Homeschooling) has allowed us to do more reading.”
As Jehovah’s Witnesses in Lafayette, their congregation meetings remain online, and they meet once a week via Zoom. So this in-person time as a family – devotions in the morning and many evenings – is filling a gap many have experienced during the pandemic.
“Personally it has helped us grow closer to Jehovah,” Furnell Johnson said. “We were always moving in that direction, but this allows us to keep that routine intact now, especially in the evening time. They don’t really have homework in the evenings.”
The Johnsons are among many families who decided to ride out the pandemic from home even as some schools opened last fall. Louisiana public schools saw almost 17,000 fewer students this year, according to state enrollment numbers, and in Lafayette Parish alone, thousands of students opted to start the school year virtually like Mariah and Monae.
Holly Weber, communications director for The Pentecostals of Lafayette, said she’s seen a number of families in their congregation shift to homeschooling this year due to health concerns or economic reasons.
One of the church’s mottos is that “families are our first ministry,” so they went into overdrive to make sure families had resources they needed to spend quality time together learning about their faith, Weber said.
The church created and sent video lessons to families and provided Bible studies suitable for all ages.
“We encourage families to have just one night where they turn off the TV, put away their phones and use these conversation starters,” Weber said.
“It builds bonds. In our crazy, hectic schedule, everyone is so busy. Slowing down to read a Bible story, share a meal and pray with our kids reminds them that they matter not only to Jesus, but they matter to Mom and Dad.”
Joelle Adair, a mother of four in Youngsville, began homeschooling her kids before COVID-19, and she empathizes with those who felt forced to make that decision this year. She knows firsthand that homeschooling can be a lot to handle, “and they were kind of thrown into it,” she said.
“No matter how hard it gets I know God led me to do it,” Adair said.
Adair is a member and small group leader with the Pentecostals of Lafayette, and faith comes first in her family. She said she felt God calling her to homeschool three years ago.
“I never thought I’d be a homeschool mom,” she said. “To be honest, it was a God thing. … I wanted to instill some things in my children – godly principles, character lessons. That’s hard to do when they’re at school all day.”
Now she has more time with them to sprinkle in those lessons throughout the day, beginning with a devotion over breakfast. They read from Christian books aimed at their age group and discuss the day’s topic, often illustrated by a real-life story.
“I ask, ‘What did you learn?’ after every devotion,” Adair said. “Usually they have some takeaway. They’re still listening no matter what age.”
Time like this is non-negotiable for the Adairs, and sometimes they have two a day, fitting in an evening devotional once Dad gets home.
“For our family, that’s a must,” Adair said. “Whether we do school outside of the home or in, we get a devotional.”
“It’s important to me for them to see unity between a husband and wife, to see that we believe the same thing.”
Courtney Richardson homeschools her fourth- and sixth-graders, and they start each day with scripture and an inspirational story that they usually find in an age-appropriate magazine published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have this time together, but the kids also read them on their own at other parts of the day.
“We read about people’s lives,” she said. “The kids can relate to the great things those people did and learn lessons that aren’t so direct. Their hearts can open up to the lessons.”
She supplements the stories with videos on YouTube, LivingScriptures.com or LatterDayKids.com.
“Our faith is a really big part of our lives,” said the mom in Gonzales. “That’s a huge bonus (to homeschooling). We can study everything as a whole – connecting the subjects and faith.”
“The most important thing I can teach them when they’re younger is building their character,” she said. “It’s a very formative time in their lives, when they’re trying to figure out who they are.”
Richardson said homeschooling has been fulfilling for her because she’s been able to see her children grow and develop that character.
“I’m seeing that be shaped and formed over time, and it pours over to every subject,” she said. “It all connects to faith and where we come from and the decisions we make. Without that, (school) wouldn’t have the depth and beauty and understanding.”
That depth seems to be common among religious families who homeschool.
“I’ve been able to see the emotional side of my children’s learning, see what lights them up, to observe and understand their headset, why they’re feeling the way they’re feeling,” Monica Johnson said.
Daphne Cormier, a fellow homeschooling mom and Jehovah’s Witness in Lafayette, feels the same way with her youngest, who is the baby of five siblings.
“I love it as a mom – spending time with our children,” Cormier said. “It’s not often and it won’t be for long.”
Jakerra, 17, just completed high school through the online Penn Foster program.
“We’re very proud of Jakerra,” her mom said. “She really worked hard. We give credit to the Bible. Without spiritual guidance we’re not able to do it the right way.”