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Interview with Matthew Duncan: the goal is to be engaged with each other

Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education
Interview Series: Church School Directors throughout the Archdiocese
Matthew Duncan, St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Pawtucket, RI

July 2019

The Goal Is To Be Engaged with Each Other


How long have you served as Church School Director?

This is my first year as Sunday School Director at St. Mary. Before that I taught our teen Sunday School class and was the SOYO adviser.

How many students attend your church school? How is your church school organized for Sunday classes and how many teachers are assigned per class?

We have about 50 students on our rolls (but we don’t get that many on a weekly basis). Currently, our Sunday School is made up of four classes: preschool-kindergarten, 1st-3rd grade, 4th/5th grade, and middle school/high school. Each class has one teacher, except the middle school/high school class, which has two teachers. We also have a music teacher who teaches our students Liturgical music every other week. Our teachers—Jiana Dayekh, Nancy Muller, Holly Lazieh, Elijah Vollendorf, Andrea Vollendorf, and Maureen Gurghigian—are all extremely hardworking and dedicated. We’re very lucky to have them in our Sunday School.

On Pentecost and Missions

We often remember Pentecost as being the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. We remember the tongues of fire and wonder what that experience would have been like. Perhaps we also limit the important events of that day to the room in which the Apostles were waiting as Christ had commanded them to do when he ascended into heaven. We may not think about the rest of that day, or what happened beyond the room.

Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church. After all, it was on this day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. That, in itself, was an event worth celebrating, but it did not just happen for the Apostles' edification. When He descended upon the Apostles, the Holy Spirit enabled them to fulfill Christ's command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. We don't always ponder that connection when we celebrate Pentecost.

Attendance Certificates

Reward your staff and students by recognizing their efforts! There are two attendance certificates, one for older children and one for younger, which simply read "For Exemplary Church School Attendance." In addition, we have a "Recognition Certificate," which allows you to recognize every child for something if you wish— from a bright smile to listening well. Finally, we have an adult Appreciation Certificate. These are available both as a fillable word document and as a PDF. To use the fillable word document, simply click on the line under "presented to" or "awarded to." A gray box will appear in which you can type the name of the individual you would like to recognize. Print, sign and present!

A Team Approach to Sunday School Leadership

An Interview with Wafa Omeish and the Church School Leadership Team
St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, Coral Gables, FL

The Saint George Sunday Church School has an interesting leadership structure. There is a principal, vice principal, and a team of officers and coordinators. The official role and responsibilities of the Principal are defined as, “In charge of curriculum development and implementation. Maintaining a standard of student behavior designed to command respect and minimize classroom interruptions. Orienting/training staff.  Planning and conducting faculty meetings as necessary; planning and implementing Recognition Sunday Program.”

A brief description of the additional positions are as follows:

Vice Principal - Support and assist Principal in all areas.

Secretary - Take minutes of meetings, keep all Sunday School records, maintain files at Church office.

Original 2018 Christmas Pageant Available for Download

Now available for download! An original Nativity Pageant created by Rebekah Yergo (Church School Director at St. John Chrysostom Orthodox Church in York, PA) and Rosemary Shumski (Administrative Assistant at the Department of Christian Education) is available for use in your parish. The writing, stage preparations, and costumes will be a hit with your children, who will feel like they are in a real production!
View the photos of the 2018 production.

RESOURCES

Nativity Pageant script
Commitment Form for parents

YouTube video of "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" Cambridge performance
"Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" lyrics
"Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" audio file

Nativity Kontakion lyrics

"Heaven and Earth" lyrics
"Heaven and Earth" music score
"Heaven and Earth" audio file

Jennifer Buchko and Samia Zolnerowich: Partnering as Friends and Co-Directors

Jennifer and Samia have been co-directors of the Sunday Church School at Ss. Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Potomac, MD, for 10 years. They have actually been friends for over 25 years! They even co-taught the 2nd-3rd grade Church School class for 3 years, including their first year as co-directors.

Please share with us a little about yourselves and the Church School Program. How long have each of you served as Church School Director? Please describe how the Church School program responsibilities are divided and shared between co-directors. This is our first interview with co-directors, and I am very interested in learning.

When we began as directors, we split our duties where Samia would be the contact person for the priests and teachers and Jennifer would take care of the paperwork, registration, emails and newsletters. Now we both jump in and do whatever needs to be done.  This helps when one of us is really busy with our families; there is someone that can take over for the other one. We love working together. We can plan together, brainstorm together and support the teachers. It also allows one of us to help out in a class when needed and leaves the other one in the office to be ready to answer questions for parents or church members.

St. George Class Enjoys Creative Workshop

March, 2019

Anna-Sarah Farha, Christian Education Coordinator for the Diocese of Miami and the Southeast, attends St. George in Jacksonville, FL. Recently she shared these photos (click "Read More") of the Kindergarten and First Grade class at St. George, busily writing and decorating in a creative workshop featuring this year's Creative Festivals theme. Students were introduced to the theme—"Antiochian Village: Past, Present, & Future; 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' (Philippians 4:13)," and then were able to decorate sugar cookie arches resembling the arch at Antiochian Village. "Of course, the boys ate their arches at the end of class," Anna-Sarah said with humor. Students also worked on their written entries.

The Best Way to Learn is to Teach

An interview with Nancy McNeil

St. Andrew Antiochian Orthodox Church, Woodway, TX

Nancy has been a Church School Director at various churches for over 20 years and now serves at St. Andrew, a smaller, mission parish.

Please share with us a little about yourself and the St. Andrew Sunday School Program:

I have had the privilege to serve as Sunday Church School director in several different Orthodox parishes for over 20 years. In the 40+ years I have been Orthodox, I have continually worked with GOYA programs and Sunday Church Schools. My job as a public school teacher apparently just carried over into working with children at church.

How many students attend St. Andrew Sunday school? How is the program organized for Sunday classes and how many teachers are assigned per class?

St. Andrew is a smaller, 6-year-old mission parish and has a possible 24 students. Our average SCS attendance on Sundays is 17. We have divided the students into four classes this year with a 2-4 year-old class; a 5-8 year-old class; a 9-13 year-old class; and a high school class. Our youngest class has been blessed with a talented pre-school teacher who works with an aide. Our elementary class has two extremely dedicated teachers who have been working together since before their arrival at St. Andrew. I teach the intermediate/middle school class.

Veteran Educator, Thriving SOYO Department, In-House Curriculum

An Interview with Arlyn Kantz
St. Peter Antiochian Orthodox Church, Fort Worth, TX

Arlyn Kantz journeyed from an evangelical background to Orthodoxy seven years ago. She has taught history and Bible at St. Peter’s Classical school for the past six years and has served as director of Christian Education for the parish for the last three. Before becoming Orthodox, she worked in curriculum development for special populations while raising four children. She and Will, her husband of 25 years, recently handed off the reigns of a thriving SOYO department to capable younger hands.

How many students attend your Sunday school? How is your program organized for Sunday classes and how many teachers are assigned per class?

We have approximately sixty children in our parish, birth to eighteen. Twenty-two attend Sunday School on a regular basis. Sunday School meets after mass for forty-five minutes. Our children are organized into three classes: PreK-1st grade, 2nd-6th grade, and then 7th-12th grade. Our two younger classes do not hold firm to the boundary of age, depending on attendance and maturity and the preference of some children to be with a sibling. We do hold a firm line though on attending SOYO, as teens need a space of their own. We are blessed to have two teachers per level. Sometimes teachers rotate every other Sunday and sometimes they team teach depending on what is going on with their personal schedules and the number of children attending each Sunday.

The Feast Day of Theophany

On the day of Theophany we learned that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We also learned that when Jesus stepped into the Jordan River, the water was made clean. On the feast day, January 6, we remember that one day all of nature will be made clean and new again. Here is how we celebrate the feast....

Click here to read more (PDF)!

See also Why Do We Have Our Homes Blessed by Phyllis Onest

Interview with Sammye Fuller: Supporting Sunday School as a Teacher, Then as Director

Sammye Fuller is in her seventh year as Sunday School Director at Holy Trinity Antiochian Orthodox Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. The parish has 25 students enrolled for the 2018-2019 school year.

Please share with us a little about yourself.

Technically, I have been the Sunday School Director for about seven years. However, since we did not have a Director before that, and I was the only Sunday School teacher in the beginning, perhaps it has been longer.

We have four classes. The preschool class is for 2-ish to 5 years old, with one teacher and one or more helpers when available. Parents often stay if needed. The elementary class is 6-9 years old.

The Great Feasts: The Life of Our Lord

By Carole Buleza

The Twelve Great Feasts and Pascha, taken together, are an overview of the life of our Lord. While it is important for our children to know about His miracles and teachings, it is just as important for them to know the main events of His life story. Our salvation resides in His life. Furthermore, just as we are baptized into Him, our own story—our life—must rest on His. Jesus’ life comprises the “foundational story” for Christians. A foundational story answers the ultimate questions of life, death and why we are here, and guides our thoughts, values, and actions. The Christian story provides answers to all these questions and gives us the virtues of faith, hope, and love that, even if not recognized as such, influence our attitudes and actions and curb the anxiety that comes from unexpected events and uncertain times. It is a strong foundation. (Read the rest of Carole's introduction.)

Grades K–1
Great Feasts K–1 
Icon Postcards 

Grades 2–3
Great Feasts 2–3
Icon Postcards 

Several Divine Liturgy Resources for Young Children

We have previously shared the lovely board book What Do You See at Liturgy? by Kristina Kallas-Tartara. As we mentioned in that blog post, the book consists of a gentle rhyme paired with pictures of what a child will see when they go to the Divine Liturgy. We continue to recommend this book as a helpful tool to help little ones enter into the service when their attention needs to be redirected.

Time to Go to Church… A Time to Fear and Dread?

Author’s note: The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education is blessed to be able to share the wisdom of others. Parents, find out how others are keeping their kids engaged in the service by exploring this compilation of advice shared by Fr. John Peck on his website Journey to Orthodoxy. You can explore the original article and also view our handout on church behavior.

Let the Little Children Come
by Presbytera Marilisse I. Mars

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 19:14

It's Sunday morning. The church bulletin says that church starts at 10:00am. It's now 10:30am. You're walking to the car to take yourself and the kids to church. You're arriving at communion. You're embarrassed to come in that late, but you're less embarrassed (after all, half the parish comes to church late) than you would be by your children's behavior if you stayed for the whole service. You walk in during the Lord's Prayer. A few minutes later, thank God, communion. Now you can go. Lunchtime!   Read More...

Helping Children Worship
From St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church

Dear St. Luke Family,
We are on a quest to train our children to love the Lord's Day! We want them to love the Divine Liturgy, to actively engage in it, and to understand it.

​Finding a Way to Help (Even on a Limited Budget)

Author’s note: We have written in the past about having a family goal for the summer. If your family’s summer goal is to grow in the faith, read on! We’ve also shared some ideas of activities in your back pocket for when your children need some guidance/something to do. Here is another idea  - something that your family can do together that will offer common purpose while also allowing you to actively live your Faith this summer.

There are so many different needs that come to our attention. A local fire or flood, a foreign orphanage, a friend-of- a-friend’s illness with lofty medical costs, hungry homeless in a nearby city, etc. The list goes on, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Because we are Christians, we need to live a life of giving and helping. We become aware of needs, sometimes on a daily basis, and we know that we should be part of the cure for those needs. But where do we start?

Original Christmas Pageant for 2017, Available for Download

Now available for download! An original Christmas pageant entitled Light of the World written by Rebekah Yergo (Church School Director at St. John Chrysostom Orthodox Church in York, PA) and Bonnie Flowers, is available for use in your parish. The writing, stage preparations, and costumes will be a hit with your children, who will feel like they are in a real production!

Additionally, attached is the sheet music that is used in the production.

View the photos of the Light of the World production.

On Evaluating the Sunday Church School Year

The school year is wrapping up in North America. For many of us, this means that Sunday Church School will also be taking a summer break. A change from the usual routine is a good time for us to think and evaluate what we do and take steps toward making improvements. Let us take advantage of this time to review our classroom and lessons this year, thinking about what worked and what did not work, and then figure out steps to take to improve for next year.

Evaluating all of this at once can feel overwhelming. We recommend blocking out a few evaluation sessions in our summer schedule, concentrating on one aspect at each session. Suggested review sessions could include: classroom setup; curriculum; interactions with students; teaching style; etc. Each of us knows which areas of our Sunday Church School class experience need the most consideration, and we should schedule a self-appointed review session for each of those specific areas.

Desired Attributes of Sunday Church School Directors

By Chris Andreas

Though it would certainly be difficult to find individuals possessing all the attributes mentioned below, all are desirable for those wishing to hold the position of director of a Sunday Church School (SCS). Directors are those who must make everything “go,” and the programs will be at their best only when the leadership is equal to the tasks.

Faithful Members of the Church Sunday Church School
Directors are role models for the teachers, the students and their parents. A Director who says one should attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy and the sacramental life of the Church should also be a Director who attends and participates in them. A Director should think of her/himself as a continual learner of the Faith, reading, studying and reflecting on the Orthodox Tradition and passing along new books and ideas to the teachers. A Director should be spiritually motivated, filled with fervor and excitement.

Gleanings from a Book: "The Suitcase" by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called The Suitcase: a Story about Giving. The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant - even a leader - in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book. 

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine!

Gleanings from a Book: Parenting Toward the Kingdom by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the- trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed! My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)

But I digress. Let's get back to the book. "Parenting Toward the Kingdom" outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

Our Departmental Lenten Resources and Links for Great Lent

Throughout the exploration of our page, we have discovered many valuable archived articles, resources, links, and activities that pertain to Great Lent. These may prove to be quite beneficial to you in the coming weeks and months. These offerings have been gathered and organized below, for you to explore, read and utilize.

Resources

Articles

Crafts and Activities

Gleanings from a Book: Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God's Creation

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting - Cultivating God's Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Original Christmas Pageant Available for Download

Now available for download! An original Christmas pageant entitled Out of Egypt, written by Rebekah Yergo, the Church School Director at St. John Chrysostom Orthodox Church in York, PA, is available for use in your parish. The pageant was successfully performed in 2015; the writing, stage preparations, and costumes were a hit with the children, who felt like they were in a real production.

Additionally, attached is the sheet music that is used in the production.

View photos of the pageant

New Activity Book from OCA

Don't miss the brand new activity book from the OCA Department of Christian Education, "Saints and the Animals That Served Them." This is the fourth in an on-line series of DCE Activity Books. Others include Saints Commemorated in Litiya Prayers, Saints in Times of Trouble, and Saints of North America. Each installment contains concise, informative, easy to read histories of the saints; detailed maps of their lives and travels; respective troparia and kontakia; entertaining word games and puzzles, and more! This free downloadable pdf of all four Activity Books can be found here: http://dce.oca.org/page/activity-books/

Online Resource List for Parents and Teachers

Here is a list of many of the sites that the Social Networking Ministry of the Department of Christian Education visits when searching for ideas and resources.

Orthodox Sites

 1.       Ancient Faith Ministries: http://www.ancientfaith.com/

This site offers a mix of audio and publishing ministries to Orthodox Christians. Ancient Faith has talk radio, Orthodox Christian music, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, and even an online bookstore. Podcasts of particular interest to parents and teachers include:

a. “Be the Bee” http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee
Short bits about the Faith; geared to teens/young adults

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