Interview with Yuliya Warner: “When Directing a small church school, be excited and stay flexible!”
Yuliya has served as Sunday Church School Director at St. Anthony Antiochian Orthodox Church (Melbourne, FL) for six years. She was also the primary teacher for the program. Students meet in the same classroom and share a lesson, with an average attendance of 2-8 children per Sunday.
Which curricula is used for Sunday classes?
I use Orthodox Christian Education Commission materials as a base, along with various online resources to create my own lessons, since at times the students range in age from 4-17 years old. In addition, I occasionally use the Sunday Gospel for Children from Let Us Attend on the Department of Christian Education website (I add it to the bulletin with either a crossword puzzle or coloring page).
How do you organize a lesson that works well for all ages since you don’t know in advance which ages of students will be attending on any given Sunday?
I prepare for all ages just in case. We have a computer and printer available at our church, so if something unexpected comes up I can quickly adjust and print more materials. Also, I always keep various craft materials in our classroom.
Please describe one or more of the ways that you communicate with parents about Church School so that they feel connected even if their children are not able to attend on some Sundays.
We connect by email, text, or phone call. I email links with our weekly news announcements (I do “St. Anthony’s News” email on Sunday and the weekly bulletin, so I can add Sunday school news and materials to it). For the Creative Arts Festival, if children are not there for a period of time, I mail materials with a prepaid return envelope (this works better than just emailing a link for Creative Arts Festival to the parents).
Please describe a Church School event that happened outside of church.
All the kids were invited for a trip to the zoo. All costs were covered by the Sunday school fund. We had only two kids (ages 4 and 12) and one parent. Our theme for the trip was the beauty and wonder of God’s creations. We fed a giraffe, saw wonderful animals, and got to explore nature. We took a short break to share food (I had a cooler with food and drinks). Fr. Elia joined us for lunch and led us in prayer before the meal. We sat on the rocking chairs by the lake, watched the fish and birds, and talked about life. There is a lot to say about our trip. It was so much fun! I love field trips because they help us to get to know each other better. At the end, we had even more fun running to the car in the rain. The feeling of togetherness and friendship is the best!
What advice do you have for directors who are building church schools in small parishes?
There is no formula, but I would say don’t get discouraged, stay excited, be flexible, and make more community events to show what you have to offer. People move constantly, so try to keep in touch with kids who left. Let them know that they have a home at your church and that they are loved by their church family. Also, work together with your priest to further improve church schools.
What is a short-term goal that you have for St. Anthony Church School?
The attendance is very inconsistent, so it is difficult to make plans. I would like to have a computer in our classroom to engage my students and increase participation.
Church School activities outside the classroom:
Camp days: Fr. Elia and I make three camp days throughout the school year. First, we come up with a theme. For example, our last theme was “Priest’s Vestments”. Next, he prepares a conversation about it. Sometimes I send him my ideas and links to look at. During camp, we pray in the morning, have breakfast together, then go in for Abouna’s talk, and do some Q&As. After the talk, I have a conversation with the kids about Father’s speech while making a themed craft or poster. We show our creations on Sunday to the whole parish by putting it on our bulletin board.
Field Trip: Fr. Elia and I always make sure to plan at least one field trip during summer.
Christmas play: We do a Christmas play every year. Sometimes just kids, sometimes with the whole parish (whoever wants to participate). I usually conduct the play, but anyone can give advice, help with music, costumes, props, or suggest text for the play (which I often alter to fit our small parish).
St. Ignatius Dinner and Special Olympics Fundraiser: We organize a luncheon with kids and parents to raise money.
Holiday celebrations: I ask children, teens and parents to get involved with cooking and decorating for holiday events.
Angel Tree: In November, children, with help from the adults, decorate our Christmas tree for the Salvation Army angels. After that is over and gifts are delivered, we decorate it for Christmas. I try to get all of our children, big and small, involved in the life of our Church.
Feast Day Lessons: Every week before a Feast day, I put together a lesson to educate the children about certain details to pay attention to during the service. We usually cancel Sunday school for Feast days, so children can witness and learn our traditions and services. I am usually involved in organizing Feast celebration luncheons, so I ask the children to help with flower arrangements, setting up tables, and decorations.
In our small Church there is always enough work for everyone. Participating in all activities teaches children to love one another, be attentive, and serve God by serving others. We are a Church Family.