The new Virtual Learning Center helps students have a more normal school experience.

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting all aspects of social interaction and activities, many local school districts had difficulty developing safe plans for the new school year. Agencies serving children and youth — including several CHHSM members — felt the impact of that uncertainty.

In the Womelsdorf, Pa., area, the local school district finished its virtual education plans in late August. That left UCC-related Bethany Children’s Home just a few days to find a way to make school as normal as possible for its young residents.

“Our team here at Bethany created a virtual learning center in about a week,” says Dana L. Hoffman, marketing and events specialist. The finished product gives Bethany students a feeling of being in school, even though they are learning from the Bethany grounds.

This wall decoration adorns the high school learning center room.

Bethany converted one of its buildings into the center. Hoffman says the staff team moved furniture, set up tables and chairs for work spaces, and erected dividers between each seat to minimize distractions. Keeping social distancing also was of paramount importance, she says.

Most of the Bethany students attend classes with other students in the Conrad Weiser Area School District, so the Bethany Virtual Learning Center mimics the school district’s regular hours. Bethany has a cafeteria where the students are served breakfast and lunch. Recreation and art programs also are built into the students’ schedules.

The goal, says Hoffman, is to help the students stay in a school/learning frame of mind by providing an educational setting. “Many students are probably struggling with some of the same issues of feeling motivated when learning from home,” she says. “We wanted to replicate the school setting as much as possible.”

The new center “truly took a village,” Hoffman adds, “and it is a great place for the students to feel like they are in a structured learning environment. The students are enjoying their new ‘school’!”