Tabernacle education groups keep community joyful during COVID

Ways have been found to fundraise and host events safely

Special to The Sun: In past years, Home and School Association volunteers helped run a holiday shop for students to buy presents for friends and family. This year, the shop will be run online.

So much about school has changed during COVID-19. But even as some students learn online, Tabernacle’s Home and School Association and its education foundation are working hard to bring joy to district students and parents.

“We want to promote the sense of community and involvement and make school a little bit fun,” said Amy Lepsis, president of the Tabernacle HSA. “It’s hard for the kids right now.”

The association, which usually hosts programs like holiday events and the annual book club, has had to reconsider its plans to ensure the safety of those programs.

“Everything changed in the spring, and it definitely caught us off guard,” Lepsis acknowledged. “Unfortunately, for safety reasons, parents and volunteers are not allowed in the school buildings, so our events have to take a complete back seat right now. So we’re trying to find new ways to do monthly events and support the kids (in) the fact that they still feel a sense of community.”

Last month, the HSA hosted a virtual pumpkin decorating contest in lieu of the usual in-person Halloween event; Lepsis said the contest had more than 70 entries. During the holiday season, the HSA will move its annual holiday shop online.

“(The Halloween event) was a great opportunity for students of all cohorts and our remote learners to blend together to interact,” said school Superintendent Shaun Banin. “It’s a lot of thinking differently and what we can do to still have that sense of community and belonging.”

The Education Foundation of Tabernacle Township has also been a staple in the district, funding grants for teachers and professional development and acting as the nonprofit arm for Tabernacle schools.

“With the state cuts and the budget issues that we’re facing, Tabernacle was hit really hard,” said Jennifer Husted, president of the foundation. “For such a small district, it’s almost impossible. So you’re looking in every nook and cranny to see what we can do to kind of offset some of that and maintain the awesome community and support that we have in our district.”

Husted estimates the district will lose about $6 million in funding over the next five or six years due to state budget cuts. With COVID forcing the district to create a hybrid learning curriculum, the education foundation was able to provide funding for Google and Seesaw technology, virtual learning development for teachers and “learning-in-a-box” for the district’s kindergarteners. 

The HSA also provided materials to students to help with COVID costs – a “cinch sak” for all students that included a mat and sunglasses so they could sit outside safely during breaks.

“In terms of their support to our district, that hasn’t stopped,” Banin explained. “These are two fantastic organizations who have really used their fundraising efforts to support the programs that the schools offer, and they’re always constantly asking us what additional ways they can use resources to help districts.”

The HSA has also had to re-adjust the way it raises funds, from donations at in-person events to more direct sales fundraisers like online shopping events with Amazon Smile, Save Around Books and Boon Supply.

“A lot has changed, but also stayed the same in terms of the level of care and instruction that our students are receiving,” Banin added. “We’re very fortunate to be in such a fantastic, supportive environment that everyone just does everything they can to make sure our students get what they need to be successful.”

Interested parents can get involved or donate to the school organizations by emailing the HSA at tabernaclehsa@gmail.com and the Education Foundation at educationfoundationtabtwp@gmail.com.