Most Church School (Sunday School) programs have begun in the Orthodox Churches around the world, especially in the United States. Our Church School program at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX is a huge undertaking that I'm blessed to be a small part of, as the co-teacher for the Junior & Senior High School class.
We have about 200 children participating this year (2012-2013) with classes ranging from Pre-K to High School, with 22 dedicated teachers including 15 young adults. The course material for each class is varied: lessons of the Gospels, St Paul and his missions, Sacraments of the Church, discussions on the Divine Liturgy and other Liturgical services, Lives of the Saints, activities for the younger children, Church History, and contempory social and moral issues. There are amazing sources to be incorporated in the Church School program and used in the classroom, especially from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.
Many thanks to our Church School Director, Mrs Susie Sobchak for her dedication and love towards the youth and their families at St George Houston and my co-teacher, Mrs Samantha Zaid for her enthusiasm and leadership with our students!
I wanted to share a few new items for our course curriculum for the Junior & Senior High School class:
1. Pen Pals: We have begun an "old fashioned" pen pal program with our class this year. Its definitely not a new idea, so I'll limit the credit I get when I receive the "Teacher of the Year" award hehe. My purpose for a pen pal system is two-fold: I have noticed (in my own writing as well) with the emergence of technological means of communication, that there is a reliance on short-hand forms of writing a lack of ability in grammar and spelling among the youth in society today. I wanted to provide a forum to "practice" writing in a fun atmosphere. Also, I thought it would be fun to help facilitate new friendships among the youth in our Archdiocese. We hope that our teens will take an active interest in another teen's life, especially one who hopefully shares the same Faith and values.
Before the days of text messenging, Facebook, and Twitter, I was a youth who attended a summer camping program at the Antiochian Village, as well as met friends from across the Archdiocese at regional retreats and conferences. We had two forms of communication to keep our friendships alive and well throughout the year when we were absent from each other: long distance phone calls (thanks Mom & Dad for paying the bills!) and writing letters.
I contacted an "old" friend from our days at the Antiochian Village who now runs the Teen SOYO program at another parish in the Midwest about the possibility of creating a pen pal system with our teens. Miss Julia Shaheen of St George in Akron, Ohio, loved the idea and offered to help incorporate it in the Church School program between our parish communities. (Our teens just wrote their first letters this past Sunday - letters are in the mail - which will be matched up with a pen pal in Akron, Ohio; they will write back this upcoming Sunday and mail them back. I'll keep y'all posted on how its going!)
2. Orthodox Words: Each week two teens are asked to research the definition of a word used in Orthodox terminology. They will print the word, definition, and a picture explaining the term on an 8x10 paper, which we are posting all over the walls in our classroom. The teens present the terms to the whole classroom, which allows for for further discussion. The past few weeks, I've chosen the words (icon, Eucharist, sin, propitiation), but we hope that the teens will chose their own words (something heard or read in the Liturgy, in a book, or in discussion that they might not understand).
3. Current Events: It's a busy world, no doubt about that! News coverage for everywhere, local, regional, national, and international. We wanted to create a forum for our Church School class that our teens could discuss current events, especially which relate to their Faith and beliefs. Individual teens are asked to find a news article that interests them and forward the link for all in the class to view during the week prior to our discussion during Church School on Sunday. During class, the teen is asked to present the news article they found and an open discussion begins.
Our most recent discussion was about the popularly read news surrounding a piece of papyrus which the text, written in Coptic and probably translated from a 2nd century Greek text, contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary. Article found HERE. I printed out an Orthodox response, found HERE, for the teens to take home and continue their discussions. More "current events" will be presented on this blog for all to read and discuss.
The above Church School ideas have been incorporated in our program at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church. I hope these ideas will be shared with our Church School programs in Orthodox Churches; I would love to read comments on our ideas and have others share their own ideas, as well.
- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director