RELIGION AT ST. PAUL PARISH SCHOOL
Marie Bricher serves as the Religion Specialist at the school. This 4-hour a week position has several main areas of emphasis: special units of instruction in various grade levels, instruction at Monday Morning Muster, support for grade-level teachers, and staff retreats.
CURRICULUM GRADES 1ST - 6TH
My Book About the Church Year
Using the theme of gifts and birthday parties, first graders are introduced to the special seasons of our church year as gifts from Jesus that help us celebrate the special moments in His life. The children have a workbook that walks them through the seasons of the Church year, beginning with Advent and ending with Ordinary Time. As we begin each new season, the children get to open a ‘gift’ to the class that contains symbols of that season that are placed on a table for all to see. The impact of opening gifts for each season helps reinforce each season and the particular symbols we use in it—including the color of each season. The children get to color their book and make it beautiful. It is then used with reading buddies in the classroom and then sent home to share with their families.
My Book about the Miracles of Jesus
Second graders learn about the life of Jesus and the geography of the holy land while carefully examining 9 miracle stories from the Gospels. Each student gets a workbook with pictures, short answers and tables to fill in. The children take turns reading each miracle story and discuss answers to questions about it with the Religion Specialist. The Religion Specialist has a power point presentation that illustrates the land where Jesus walked and shows the children various styles of artwork depicting the miracles.
The children color their books and answer the questions. At the end of the unit, the children create a poster showing their favorite miracle story and explaining why it is their favorite. The children include lessons learned and prayers relating to the miracle. The booklet is sent home for the child to share with his/her family.
3rd and 4th grade:
In third grade, the Religion Specialist leads the students through a workbook that helps them understand what a saint is and what we mean by a canonized saint. We talk about how God wants all of us to be saints in heaven. The students imagine themselves as a saint, giving themselves a name, identifying who or what they are patron of, and drawing themselves as a saint with ‘emblems’ (symbols) of their life.
After the workbook is completed, the children are assigned a saint to research. They are asked to locate 6 facts about their saint—and to create a ‘cube’ that shares that information with others. Making and decorating a box helps make the research less intimidating and more focused for them. Parents and parish volunteers help each child with their research. In fourth grade, students are led through a power point presentation on the steps of canonization. Each student has a worksheet with prompts for notes and a table to fill out about the process of canonizing a saint. We discuss why we ask saints to intercede for us and what it means (and doesn’t mean!) to say we pray to saints. Each child selects a saint to research and write a report about. Children are given a worksheet to help them locate and write down the necessary information. Each child also creates a portrait of their saint.
When it is possible, the portraits and saint boxes are displayed at our school’s Mass on All Saints Day.
The Story of the Old Testament
The Religion Specialist walks the children through 17 periods of Old Testament history, giving them an understanding of the ‘big picture’ of the Old Testament. The children color a booklet and place stickers on a ‘path’ that show each period. The children help read in the book and ask many questions about each period.
After reading the book, which concludes with a word find and map to color, the children are assigned to a small group and then given one of the 17 periods to study. Each group is provided with Bible verses and stories to look up. Each group then creates a poster telling that part of Old Testament history. The posters are placed in the hall for all the school children to enjoy. As the students conclude with this project, they are invited to attend a special retreat called “A Letter to You: Special Delivery.” This 1 ½ hour retreat experience helps the children reflect on the Bible as God’s love letter to them. It ends by presenting each child with a ‘letter’ that describes God’s love for them as recorded by the prophet Isaiah.
The Story of the New Testament
Fourth graders turn their attention to New Testament. We cover the story in a book that takes them along a path of history. For each period, the children read about it; then they color and apply a sticker that illustrates that part of the story. The booklet includes a map of the land where Jesus walked and finishes with a word find. The children are invited to decorate their book and make it beautiful. They are encouraged to take it home after it is completed and share it with their family.
At the end of the unit, the children break into small groups and play a game called “Get it Right” that asks them questions about the story of the New Testament. We invite administrators and parents to attend our game—and usually the children know many more of the answers! The Get it Right game, created by the Religion Specialist, involves game pieces moving around a board. When a person’s game piece lands on a question mark, they are asked a question from a set of cards. If they ‘get it right,’ they get to take 1, 2, or 3 tokens as listed on the card. The game continues until someone has earned 10 tokens and races back to the finish to win the game.
Sacraments—Jesus’ Gift to the Church
Fifth graders learn how Jesus established each of the Sacraments, what signs are used to celebrate it and what specific graces are offered to us through each Sacrament. The students create a colorful poster describing these gifts to the Church. The students read and discuss passages in the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament to better understand the meaning of each Sacrament.
The Religion Specialist helps prepare the content for the retreat portion of Outdoor School. The focus for the 6th graders is on building community and seeing themselves as members of the One Body of Christ. The children, through games, prayer and talks, are encouraged to see themselves as valuable members of the class—and to recognize that truth about each other. The Religion Specialist provides an outline for each talk and prayer session and suggestions for activities and crafts that will reinforce the themes.
Special Topics & Monday Morning Muster
The Religion Specialist helps the Principal organize the lessons and themes for the year. She assists the Principal in introducing the concepts, theme and message through regular Muster talks. These 5-15 minute presentations focus on teaching the kids a main message, encouraging them to apply it to their lives through an interesting story, and concluding with prayer. The Religion Specialist usually includes a power point presentation to draw the children in with colorful artwork, photos and maps. The Muster talks are organized with the consultation of the Catholic Identity committee, which works to create reinforcement activities for the teachers to use in the classroom.
Liturgical Seasons and Muster Talks
The Religion Specialist assists the Principal in introducing the school community to the various liturgical seasons we celebrate, especially Advent and Lent. Two goals concerning the liturgical seasons are to: (1) encourage and support a prayerful atmosphere at the school; and (2) introduce and practice the traditional, meaningful activities of our Church during these seasons. For example, our Advent prayers always include lighting an advent wreath and helping children understand the meaning of the colors, the wreath and the evergreens used in the wreath. We highlight the themes brought forward in the Sunday readings during the seasons—seeking to reinforce what’s already happening in the Liturgy rather than another set of themes.
Catholic Schools Week and Muster
The Catholic Identity Committee and the Religion Specialist work on the theme for Catholic Schools Week and helps the children understand the faith message behind it—and how that theme calls us to action. On the first 3 days of Catholic Schools Week, the school begins with a lengthened muster time. Using skits, activities, songs and actions, we celebrate our school as a Catholic school connected to a parish. We highlight what is unique and essential about being Catholic—to celebrate who we are and to be challenged about who we need to become.
Catholic Schools Week includes time to focus on living our faith in our families, in the classrooms and within our community. Although service and works of charity are encouraged and emphasized, the Religion Specialist works to make sure that Catholicism isn’t simply reduced down to ‘being nice to others.’ Muster talks and presentations help students know that at the center of all we do is the person of Jesus Christ. Catholics are people who express their faith in Jesus Christ through professing a Creed, celebrating through Liturgy and Sacraments, living according to Jesus’ commands and praying together and individually.
The Religion Specialist is available to teachers who need additional information about a topic or a short presentation to their class. The Religion Specialist has provided material from the Parish Lending Library (books & videos) for teachers to use when teaching about a particular saint (St. Patrick, for example) or when teaching about a special topic (Geography of the Bible). The Religion Specialist has assisted teachers in searching for Scripture quotations for use on bulletin boards, assignments, posters and letters home to parents. The Religion Specialist has also located artwork or craft projects for bulletin boards related to Jesus Christ, Sacred Scripture, feast days and liturgical seasons.
For some of the school Masses, the Religion Specialist composes special reflections that take children through the readings with background information and discussion questions. These reflections are sent out via e-mail to all the teachers. Many teachers use them to help prepare their students for Mass—so that the children come prepared for Mass having already read and reflected upon the Readings. If the school Mass is on a feast day, information is included about the meaning and history of the feast day. Background about the books of the Bible or their authors are also included for many Masses.
The Religion Specialist at St. Paul Parish School works to develop and lead staff retreats. These retreats have two main goals: first, to aid in spiritual reflection and faith formation for staff members, and, second, to allow time for staff to grow closer together through faith sharing. The Religion Specialist prepares four retreats for the staff each year. We begin with an opening retreat during in-service week. This retreat presents the catechetical theme for the school year and allows each staff person time to reflect and pray about it. We have retreats that prepare our staff for the seasons of Advent and Lent. These retreats give staff members time to take a deep breath and prepare for each season on their own before leading their students through the seasons. Our school year concludes with a retreat designed to reflect on our past accomplishments and challenges. We express our gratitude for God’s guidance and presence throughout the past year.