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An Interview with Anne Beach: Christian Education at the Parish and the Diocesan Level

Anne served as church school director of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church (Brier, WA) from the fall of 2005 through May of 2019. She is also the Diocesan Coordinator for the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West, serving the Pacific Northwest area. In this role, Anne schedules, organizes, and provides educator workshops as requested, and advises and trains Church School personnel. Additionally, Anne recruits the Creative Festivals Chair for the Northwest.

How many students attended your church school for the 2018-2019 school year? How is your church school organized for Sunday classes and how many teachers are assigned per class?

We had 29 students attend our church school program this year. Our classes are divided by school grade, differences occur from year to year - some are single grade, some are two grades depending on the number of students. This past year we had 3’s & 4’s combined, kinder, no 1st grade students, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th & 6th grade, no 7th grade students, one 8th grade student who joined the 9th/10th grade class, and 11th/12th grade class. Classes have patron saints; several years ago, we decided to take our class patrons from the lists of North American saints. We have at least one teacher per class. We have had teachers with assistants, co-teachers, and teachers who alternated Sundays. We try to be flexible based on our student numbers, their needs, and teacher preferences.

Which curricula is used for Sunday classes?

Currently, we use the OCEC curricula for kindergarten through 8th grade. The preschool classes (ages 3 and 4) use the Let Us Attend lessons from the AODCE website. Our high school classes are split with the 9th/10th grade doing an overview of the Bible (OSB as the primary text), and the 11th/12th grade class doing one year of church history and one year of catechism – this curriculum is under development.

How do you keep teen/SOYO students involved and engaged in Sunday school?

This is definitely a challenge. We have some students who continue through their high school graduation, we have others who never quite finish the last year, and some who stop attending church school after 8th or 9th grade. We are a small parish and our high school students have historically been a small group. Our teachers strive to develop positive relationships with our teens that will encourage their continued participation in church school.

Please describe one or more of the Department of Christian Education workshops that St. Paul has hosted for educators (Teacher Training I, etc.).

St. Paul has hosted several teacher training workshops. Teacher Training I was provided in two separate years, once many years past, and once in 2016 along with the 2016 Northwest Pan-Orthodox Continuing Education Conference. A Teacher Training II workshop was held in 2017. We were blessed to have the participation of many parishes across jurisdictions and across Washington State.

Please describe Christian Education opportunities for St. Paul students outside the classroom: youth choir, almsgiving/service project, Lenten activities, seasonal events, mentoring, Pan-Orthodox youth events, other.

The choir at St Paul is open to youth beginning at age 13 with prior approval. Students are encouraged to participate in feast day activities such as helping with the egg hunt, helping to staff the children’s activities (face painting, 3-legged race, egg toss, etc.). St Paul has also collected items for the school and hygiene kits distributed through IOCC – youth are encouraged to help put these kits together. Our youth also have traditionally prepared our breakfast on Lazarus Saturday. Given our small numbers, students are encouraged to participate in any activities or ministries that interest them, feeding the homeless, helping with church-wide clean ups, singing in the choir, serving in the altar, caring for younger children, and many activities during Holy Week as we prepare for Pascha.

Are there students with special needs in your Sunday school ministry, and how have you addressed and accommodated those needs so that all students feel welcomed?

We have had students with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, and hearing loss, as well other physical and developmental disabilities in our church school program across many years. Students participate as much as they are able. St. Paul welcomes all students in our church school program. At times, per parent request, a student has attended class with younger children, other times, we have simply asked parents for information that helps us to more faithfully serve their child. We have also on occasion requested parents to attend class with their child when behaviors or needs exceed the teacher’s training, skills, and/or ability to continue teaching the class.