Magazine article Momentum

New York After-School Program Offers Daily Religious Education for Public School Students

Magazine article Momentum

New York After-School Program Offers Daily Religious Education for Public School Students

Article excerpt

Catholic Enrichment Academy provides daily religious instruction along with recreation, snacks and homework help

Forming young people in the Catholic faith remains a struggle. The challenge is to find a way to present the faith so that doctrine and faith perspectives make sense in the child's world. Since children are heavily influenced by the ambient culture, which is in continuous change, religious educators have to size up the emerging culture and develop new strategies.

In addition to educational materials, context also plays a significant role. Ads for a new soft drink targeted for child consumption likely will be more effective on television than in newspapers. Children watch television but they rarely look at newspapers. Similarly, religious education for Catholic children attending public school could be much more effective if catechists were able to teach the children more frequently than once a week.

Developing new methods to provide religious education to Catholic children in public school is a necessity. What worked for a century or more has become wobbly in the past few decades. For a hundred years, we Catholics successfully relied on two pillars: Catholic schools and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, with the latter usually linked to released time.

What has caused disruption and concern is the growing disconnection between faith learning and faith doing. While Catholic schools remain effective educational institutions, the emerging difficulty in the Catholic schools is similar to the impossibly difficult situation faced by teachers of religious education. Religious education has little impact if parents and children do not participate at Mass regularly. More and more, parents who are at least concerned enough about religion to send the child to a Catholic school or for religious education halt after making this move. They simply hand over faith issues to the professionals-either to the Catholic school or to the religious education program. In practice, this means that many parents do not regularly attend Sunday Mass with their children.

Limited Instruction Time

This new reality hits religious education in its traditional format especially hard. Most religious education programs meet once a week for an hour or an hour-and-a-half and most programs don't meet more than 30 weeks a year. The result is limited contact time. Even more problematic, teachers only get to see students once a week, or once every other week if there happens to be a major holiday. Without the daily repetition of material learned, most children do not get the material into their long-term memory.

When CCD (religious education) students attended Mass regularly with their parents, they would at least hear something in church or hear their parents occasionally talk about issues raised in church. Now, despite valiant efforts by directors of religious education to get children to Sunday Mass with their parents, a large proportion of Catholic youngsters only get religious instruction at best an hour-and-a-half a week for 30 weeks a year.

One way to address this issue is to create a setting in which students are more regularly exposed to religious education. An ideal situation for students attending public schools would be for them to get some religion every school day. That is the program I am launching in the New York area. Called the Catholic Enrichment Academy and run in the local parish, this program is for Catholic children in pre-K through eighth grade attending public school whose parents want them to attend an after-school program.

Most Catholic schools in the New York area already run after-school programs. However, currently about 85 percent of Catholic children nationwide attend public or other nonsectarian grade schools. The Catholic Enrichment Academy usually is run separately from parish programs, because it is for a large, separate population of students.

Religious Ed Every Day

The Catholic Enrichment Academy runs every day of the school year. …

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