In the Third Millennium Religious Education Programs are facing many challenges. One of the main challenges is that kids have very busy schedules and cannot always make it to weekly classes as a result. There are many reasons for why parents decided to support their child(ren) going to a sporting or extracurricular event over coming to class (I’ll leave that for another time), but suffice it to say, I believe that parents want the best for the kids! I don’t always believe they have their priorities in the right place but it’s not always clear cut either. Kids seem too over-scheduled today and too many things tend to to “become” more important than faith formation (I sometimes here – it’s just religious education they are missing).
Over the last 8 years our parish has provided an alternative to once a week classes: A two week Summer intensive Religious Education Program. This meets a great need that we have with our parishioners. We provide it for 1st, 3rd-6th grade. We feel that the sacramental years are too important to do in a two week period. We continue to have a traditional weekly program and a program called Family Formation that happens during the year.
The Benefits of an Alternative Summer Program
Anyone can imagine that there are tradeoffs for everything one does or does not do. The benefits to our program are:
~ Students have not been at school all day when they come to class (for many this is the only schooling they have all summer) and are more focused as a result.
~ The formation of students builds from day to day in a more cohesive and organic manner than it does once a week during the year (for the most part). Students seem to learn and retain what they are learning about more because they have it day after day for two weeks instead of only once a week. Many parents share how they believe their child gets more out of the summer because they are finding it easier for their child to connect the dots about their faith.
~ Parents are able to enroll their child(ren) in this program and assure their child(ren) receive religious formation (if a traditional program is the only one offered there are often many students who miss whole years of formation or miss a good chunk of it due to scheduling conflicts).
~ The programming in a 3.5 hour day allows for things that are more challenge to coordinate during an hour and 15 minutes during the year (e.g., field trips). There is more of a VBS feel to it (although not totally) than during the year. In addition, the classrooms that are used are the catechists for two weeks versus during the year there are more restrictions because the Catholic School is in session.
~ Students do not get to experience the Liturgical Cycle like they do during the year. Linking ones lessons to the liturgical year and the Sunday Liturgy is so important and two weeks in the summer often limits students experience of the liturgical year.
~ Reinforcement is more challenging because students are not receiving a regular catechesis from week to week. The students who attend during the year at least get reinforcement from September to May.
~ Since parents are the primary educators and what we do in our religious education program is in conjunction and in partnership with what should be done within the family it can be challenging to engage these families throughout the year. We do ask them to attend 4 Enrichment sessions throughout the year, but it’s more difficult to keep the parents involved in the faith formation of their child when they are not bringing them on a weekly basis.
~ Another challenge is that the topics children learn during the two weeks are not spoken or thought of 2, 4 or 6 months later. For example, the lesson on the Works of Mercy is forgotten about and kids forget to apply the collection they are participating in at their schools or the things they are doing during the year with the Works of Mercy that they learned about in the summer.
Since I’ve become the Director I’ve required students and parents to attend 4 enrichment sessions (two in the Fall and two in the Spring). These session are designed to build community and continue to help kids and their parents grow in their faith throughout the year.
Although I was unsure when I first began working at the parish about a summer program, I now am an advocate of the Summer Program. I am always aware of the challenges we face at helping live the faith throughout the year. There are many great things about this program and I am blessed to be able to be at a parish that offers alternatives and various options for parishioners. One size (i.e., program) does not fit all. This is a way I believe our parish participates in the New Evangelization where we present the faith with new methods in order to meet the needs of the people we serve while at the same time continue to authentically pass on our rich deposit of faith.