Seeking to help working parents and help school-age kids connect with their remote education, True Life Assembly of God in Detroit Lakes has opened its spacious building to be a distance learning center for students K-12.

The church opened its doors to students on Tuesday, after Roosevelt Elementary School shifted to distance learning because of COVID-19 cases at the school.

The church building at 18330 Highway 59 North is open to all public and nonpublic school students who need a place to study with other students, and be connected to their instructors, said True Life Pastor Trevor Janich.

True Life is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday when school is scheduled to be in session, and offers “extremely strong WiFi, socially distanced tables, a playground and plenty of green space to run around outside,” Janich said. There is no cost to parents.

There are plenty of tables in the large sanctuary for kids to sit at, and Janich and his wife, Angela (who is also a pastor at the church) have converted smaller rooms into grade-specific classrooms so kids can connect online with their teachers.

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“They have to get online right away (in the morning) and have live time with their teachers,” he said. “In the meantime, we will help them with their homework, and keep them busy with other activities,” he added. Artwork will be available, and the Detroit Lakes Public Library will bring its Story Time program there as well, he said.

It’s not daycare, Janich said, but part of the idea is to help working parents who have nowhere to bring their kids when schools shut down.

“We’re not a childcare service, we’re providing this as a COVID-19 program serving a need in the community,” Janich said, “operating under the guidance of what churches are allowed to do at this time.”

Jordan Grossman, a Becker County employee who is considered an emergency worker under state COVID-19 guidelines, said she likes what True Life Church is doing, since it will help parents who are not emergency workers find a safe place for their children during work hours.

“I think this is a good option for those who don’t qualify for the school’s emergency care,” she said.

Wayne Tolbert, a retired Detroit Lakes police officer who sits on the church board, agreed that the service fills a real need.

“It’s good for the community, it’s good for the kids, obviously it’s good for the parents,” he said. Young people often learn better in a group, especially when learning things like a foreign language or higher math courses: Kids help each other learn, he said.

The church doors are open to all young people, be they public school students, private school students or home-schooled kids, Janich said.

“We’re hoping to bridge the gap, and connect public school students with non-public school students,” he said.

But it’s not only for the children, Janich said.

“We do this so parents can go to work,” he said. “We want people to be employed and go to work -- we’ll make sure the kids are safe and provided for and learning … We don’t want students moving backwards anymore than we already have.”

The Janichs hope to bring in some trusted and vetted volunteers to help, which would allow them to expand the hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

“We’re evolving as each day goes by,” he said. “The COVID response is being decided day by day … we just want to work with families (to provide an option),” he said. “We’re just facilitators,” he said. “We make sure kids are connected with their Chromebook and schoolwork. We’re not teaching.”

He asked parents to contact True Life for more information or to discuss their situation, since the church will permit some variances on age restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Janich can be reached at 218-847-5213.