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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. Last year we added the high school class and enlisted a wonderful young couple to teach this class. Since we are still a young parish, we have been using the same teachers in each class since our inception. We did have to recruit for the high school class, and I reached out to a young couple who had recently converted and married in the Orthodox Church. They both teach in a local private school. They were slightly hesitant to take the call due to their newness to the church, but I reminded them that sometimes the best way to learn is to teach. They have brought their best teaching methods and their tremendous Biblical background to create a very effective high school class.

Which curricula is used for Sunday classes?

Our curricula fluctuate with our needs. Our pre-school class works without specific curricula and helps the students with the very basics from making the sign of the cross to stories and activities around the feasts or saints of the day. Our elementary class chose to use the “New Life in Jesus” OCEC curriculum this year. When their student group was younger, they used a variety of resources. I have also used a variety of curricula with the intermediate/middle school students. This year we are using the new GOARCH 5th grade “God Calls Us” series. The last several years I have used the OCEC materials for 7th and 8th grade. When we were just beginning our parish and I was teaching all the students together we used an excellent Old Testament curriculum developed by a deacon at our sister church in Austin along with “Let Us Attend.” I will comment that using the “Let Us Attend” with such a wide age group worked quite well for the short time we employed it. As I’m retired, I have the time to glean quite a bit of material from online resources. Our teachers seem to appreciate my sharing my finds with them as additions to our regular curricula.

Do you hold staff meetings? If so, how often and please briefly describe the meetings.

Our short time of being a mission parish, yet, our continuous time working together has allowed our SCS staff to be able to communicate via email thus avoiding physical meetings. This year we had a short meeting in August after our weekly Wednesday vespers service to set our agenda and goals for the coming ecclesiastical year. Since we have been doing much of the same work for several years, we are able to do things such as our Nativity program without extra meetings. We talk at coffee hour, confirm, and communicate via email/text messages.

Describe how the parish recognizes or shows appreciation to Sunday School staff (year-end recognition, appreciation gifts, etc.)

As noted above, our being a small, younger parish means we are short of folks to rotate in and out of parish roles. Many of us have been doing the same work for the parish since its inception. As this is the case, the parish does not tend to recognize individuals; we are all working hard.  Parishioners have shown individual appreciation to our SCS staff and myself; and I attempt to acknowledge my staff at the Nativity. I look forward to when I can hand over the reins of the SCS to someone else and we can rotate roles in a timely manner.

Do St. Andrew Sunday school students participate in the creative arts festivals? If so, how are workshops organized to create entries?

St. Andrew parish is looking forward to participating in the Parish Life Conference in Fort Worth this coming summer. Our physical proximity to the conference will finally allow us to attend, though, one or two of our parishioners have participated in the past. As we are new to the PLC we will not be participating in the creative arts festival but hope to have several Bible Bowl teams. I have encouraged our older students around the creative arts festivals, though, we have yet to organize parish entries or workshops.

Do St. Andrew students organize and participate in events with other Orthodox Christian Sunday schools/youth in the area?

St. Andrew parish has had two events with the local Greek Orthodox parish this past year. My hope is to be able to host Vacation Church School together in the future along with other youth events. St. Andrew has had five successful VCS programs and I look forward to sharing our successes. Other Orthodox parishes are over 50 miles away so our interactions with their youth is difficult. We do encourage our children to participate in the diocese summer camp program and have had good attendance from our parish in the past several years.

What is one piece of advice you would share with fellow Sunday School Directors?

I have been blessed to work with a number of gifted and dedicated church educators and clergy over the years. My godmother, Irene Cassis, has been my inspiration and mentor for all my time in the Orthodox Church as she served as the Religious Education Director for Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral and for the Metropolis of Denver.  Many years ago I was able to participate in several area and/or national Orthodox religious education and youth conferences. I encourage our Sunday Church School teachers and directors to take advantage of as much personal education and networking via conferences, workshops or retreats as they can. I am delighted that both GOARCH and OCEC work hard to keep our religious education materials updated and have been surprised with the number of Orthodox online groups sharing educational materials. I pray that our Orthodox religious education programs continue to develop as beacons of wisdom.