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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.

 Which curricula do you use for Sunday classes? Please also describe the curriculum created by St. Peter Christian Education Ministry.

SOYO leaders create their own program as they sense the needs of the group and are directly answerable to our priest, Fr. Mark McNary. Younger students are taught using in-house curriculum that has been tested through use in the lower grade Bible classes of our classical school. Sunday school teachers adjust lessons to be more applicable to mixed level classroom and a student population more sporadic in attendance. As lessons are polished, they are added to the parish web site where they are available to teachers to choose from and adjust to their specific needs. Our curriculum is always a work in progress. In fact, we welcome suggestions outside our parish to better serve, if possible, the wider community.

As the first Western Rite director to be interviewed, are there any unique characteristics of St. Peter Sunday school to discuss in comparison to Eastern Rite Sunday schools?

I am not familiar enough with Eastern Rite Sunday School programs to make a qualified comparison. I am confident that they, like us, are striving to make disciples and bring children into contact with the Holy Trinity and His Bride the Church. Because we are situated in a city that home to a large Protestant seminary, it seems good to us that our materials are presented as Bible studies and infused with commentary from the Fathers. We use terms most easily understood by the culture we are trying to reach. The saints and traditions are woven through, but as a support to scriptural interpretation, not as the lesson itself.

How do you keep SOYO/teen students involved and engaged in Sunday school? We are blessed with a very supportive priest in the area of teen SOYO. Additionally, we have two energetic and spiritually mature leaders who take the youth into their hearts, praying for them regularly and investing on a personal level. SOYO leadership creates an interactive atmosphere so teenagers are not subjected to simply a second sermon by an adult figure, but are given the freedom to interact, both asking and answering spiritual questions. A mixed set of activities are rotated including crafts, group building, introspection, and sharing.

Do members of your SOYO/teen group organize and participate in events outside of Sunday school?

SOYO youth provide leadership for younger students at the parish’s annual Vacation Bible School. This past year the teens created and manned games at a fall festival outreach for the local community. Youth leaders also issue challenges to encourage spiritual awareness during the week and fellowships are held in private homes.

Please share with us about your Sunday school Lenten programs/activities/outreach.

During Holy Week the youth lead off by manning the first hour of the Paschal vigil.

Do you have advice on how to schedule teacher training events and how to prevent teacher burnout? Are there any resources that you utilize for your own development and enrichment?

Teachers meet a couple time a year informally but most of our communication happens in passing and by email. Most of our volunteers are veteran educators so it is very much a team approach. Most of us come from Protestant backgrounds and are on a bit of an adventure rediscovering the Bible through the eyes of the Fathers. We very much lean on the commentary found in the Orthodox Study Bible and Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture by Manlio Simonetti. Teacher burnout is always a danger but having two adults committed to each classroom helps ease the problem. We are always looking for and praying about the inclusion of fresh volunteers, guarding against a sense of ownership of a particular ministry.

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 one student with severe autism who attends SOYO every week. The youth and their leaders have a deep appreciation for his purpose in the Body of Christ and are naturally inclusive. A presentation was given to the ladies group specially about autism and it seems to have affected positively the whole parish body.