Monday, May 28, 2018

Closing the Church School Year, Part III

The church school summer calendar often includes Vacation Church School. Exciting for some church school directors, overwhelming/intimidating for others. Pulling from the article "New Life in the Summer: Summer Church School", by Nadine Eskoff, we'll look at the how to establish the foundation of a successful and realistic summer church school program in a parish of any size.

Vacation Church School planning & resources
"Put a real ring and enlightened zeal into your parish with a summer church school program. True, most people are looking forward to a little rest and relaxation, summer trips, summer camping; but as the summer goes on, there tends to develop an undercurrent of anxiety, a yearning for something to do, something that can capture that reserve energy and organize it into something positive."
"A summer church school of one or two weeks duration is not really as overwhelming as one might think; five basic elements are necessary:
1. desire
2. love for children, church, and education
3. organization
4. hard work

5. pooling of the many, often untapped, resources in the parish and in the community." 
“The summer church school program provides a wonderful opportunity for church growth. Instead of a void or period of stagnation in the summer months, a new excitement is generated to enhance the regular liturgical life of the parish. This is an excellent chance to invite the children in the neighborhood to come and see. Encourage church school children to bring their friends. The children also inspire their parents to want to come and participate.”


"A basic theme should be decided upon early in the summer so that your program can be well publicized through the parish news, and mechanics, like car pools, can be arranged. Generally, the theme should be one not covered in great depth during the regular school year, due to lack of time."


“Generally the program calls for a similar schedule on four 
of the five days and then on the fifth day, there is a Liturgy followed by a field trip and picnic. We run a three-hour intense program in the morning. This does not put an undue burden on the staff and allows children a half day for play and the opportunity to run off excess energy. Don't let small (or low) attendance discourage you. Our first summer program was attended by 7 to 10 children. With the adjustment to a better time in the summer, the excitement created by the children themselves, and the addition of children from a neighboring Orthodox parish, we began to average as many as 35 children each day.”

Clergy Participation
“Clergy may be particularly enthusiastic about a summer church school program. First of all, it gives the priest an opportunity for interaction with the children, allowing them to grow in their love and friendship for him through the activities and the closeness of the situation. With the flexibility of the schedule, the priest is able to prepare the children in more detail for the celebration of the Liturgy. In our program, on the day before the Liturgy the older children prepare the 'Prosphora' for the offering of the children. On the day itself, the 'Proskomedia' (the Liturgy of Preparation) is done outside the altar (as in the early church), with each child presenting his or her prosphora with the names of the loved ones to pray for during the Liturgy. The responses during the Liturgy are sung by the children, a role which they have been rehearsing all week.”

Program enhances summer parish life
“At the end of the session a display of the children's materials can be placed in the Church hall or foyer; perhaps a short presentation can be made on the following day for the whole parish to enjoy.”

Online Vacation Church School Resources

Teach students a new skill by including a Prosforo baking session for older students as part of Vacation Church School. Lesson plan, puzzle activity, and sample photos available through this link:

An online Orthodox Christian catalog with Vacation Church School materials for purchase:

"The Hub" from the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) describes many details of Vacation Church School, such as choosing a theme, daily schedule, choir rehearsal, and more:

The final post in this series about closing the church school year will focus on Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and how church schools using this program could close their Atriums for the summer and then prepare for the upcoming school year.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Closing the Church School Year, Part II

Toward the end of May and into June, church schools focus on closing the school year and preparing for summer activities within the parish. Part II of our series will focus on enrichment opportunities for church school staff, including training, retention, and recruiting. We'll refer to the Church School Directors Manual by the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education. The full manual in pdf format is available through this link:

All church school staff members - seasoned veterans and newbies alike - will benefit from a training program. Most church school teachers and directors are not professionals. They often feel hesitant and unqualified. Trainings are a wonderful way to boost the confidence of existing staff and also recruit new staff. Contact the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education to find out if there are planned training sessions in your area and/or to schedule your own training.

Options for Teacher Training
- Teaching the faith by your parish priest or learned layperson.
- Professional teachers in the parish can offer training sessions on: 
      1. lesson plans 
      2. crafts and bulletin boards
      3. cooperative learning
      4. class management
      5. time management

- Retreats led by the parish priest, special speaker, or a monastic can enhance the spiritual life of the teachers and increase their knowledge about the Orthodox faith.
- Antiochian Orthodox Diocesan Coordinators can be contacted to schedule a teacher training. For a full list of Diocesan Coordinators, visit the link below. 

A church school staff also includes non-teaching staff: those who can help with music (if you wish to have an on-going program of learning church hymns or even a children’s choir), and those who can help with special projects.
Valuable resource people are: 
1) pageant directors, stage crew, prop-makers, costumers 
2) those who can help with processions
3) those with special knowledge on scripture or Divine Liturgy as guests for class sessions of middle or high school
4) those with art or writing expertise, or organizational skills who can help with developing the Creative Festival work and with the organizing and submitting of projects.

(Taken from Section 7.3.4 of the Church School Directors Manual by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Department of Christian Education.)

The link below will share an excellent article about student "intelligences" that could be included in a teacher training packet. Although directed toward parents, church school teachers (and directors) will benefit from learning about the various and differing ways individual students learn.
"Our Orthodox tradition is richly and “multiply” abundant with ways to know and grow in God through Scripture, liturgical worship, icons, hymns, and personal prayer. However your children are “smart,” you can engage them in ways that are true to their personalities and to our faith. Discerning your children’s “intelligences” is the key to helping them learn and grow. Below are the different kinds of intelligences, and some practical ways that your children can use their gifts to glorify God."
Article written by Stephania Gianulis for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Religious Education

Additional online articles and resources for church school staff are regularly posted on the Orthodox Christian Church School Directors Facebook group. Visit the page and join the Facebook group by clicking on this link:

Next, Part III of this series will focus on Vacation Church School, including planning and online resources.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Closing the Church School Year, Part I

The month of May is a time to focus on closing the Church School Year. We'll discuss end-of-year activities for staff and students, and will often reference the Church School Directors Manual published by the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education. A pdf version of the manual is available online through the link below.

Only a handful of Sundays left until we will wrap up the Church School Year. Between now and then, several things must take place in order to properly close out your school year: classroom clean-up, student and staff recognition program and/or end-of-year awards program, staff recruiting and training for next year, and Vacation Church School resources.

Closing the Church School Year: Classroom Clean Up

Set the date now for a late May/early June work day, depending on your church school calendar. This work can be accomplished on a Sunday during class time or during Coffee Hour. Involve your students! All ages! Play church music to add energy, and perhaps serve a special treat during Coffee Hour to show appreciation to students for their contribution.

Removing all visual aids, sending school work home with students, cleaning the classroom space from top to bottom. Plan ahead by bringing brooms and dustpans, vacuum, paper towels, and green/non-toxic cleaning supplies. (Gloves and dust masks, too, if any students have allergies or asthma.)

Closing the Church School Year: Teacher & Student Recognition
This is a necessary, important, and fun responsibility for Church School Directors. This is the time to showcase and spotlight the dedication of staff, and the accomplishments of students over the course of the school year.

Discuss with your priest when to schedule Recognition Day. To ensure maximum attendance, Recognition Day should be held on a Sunday before families leave town for summer plans. Section 4.2 of the Church School Directors Manual offers suggestions on planning Recognition Day. Click below to access a pdf version of the manual.

Closing the Church School Year: Teacher/Staff Appreciation
This is a nice example of a teacher/staff appreciation gift that could be presented during Recognition Day or during a Staff Appreciation dinner.

This is a lovely appreciation gift that keeps on giving. Present these herb pots to church school teachers and staff, and they will enjoy the fresh herbs during summer with fond remembrance of their students from the school year.

Closing the Church School Year: Teacher & Student Recognition CERTIFICATES!
The link below will provide multiple certificates of achievement, attendance, and appreciation for staff and students. Even a "Recognition Certificate," which allows you to recognize every child for something if you wish— from a bright smile to listening well.

In Part II of this series, we'll discuss staff retention/recruiting/training. Part III will provide a list of Vacation Church School resources. Finally, Part IV will be an example of how to close the church school year if your parish uses Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.