The new Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ program is an “authentic Catholic program” reflecting Canadian Catholic experience. Photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

New program cause to celebrate Catholic schools

By  John B. Kostoff
  • April 1, 2022

In a year when we often feel beaten down, Catholic education has something to celebrate, and it should. This year will see the completion of the grade school religion program, Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ, Grades 1 to 8. In 2023, the first kindergarten program will be published, followed by entry into secondary school with the first Grade 9 Religion program in 2024.

It is quite an accomplishment for something that began in 2015. Soon after it started, the first Grade 1 program was published by Pearson, in conjunction with the Bishops’ Educational Committee (full disclosure: I have been a non-paid advisor to particular grades over the years).

Prior to 2015, there was no longer a national or provincial program. Schools scurried for resources because the previous program Born of the Spirit was out of print. The dedication of teachers and local parish priests to bridge the previous program and provide a current form of religious education, was, to say the least, daunting at times. But the bishops were able to see a plan for a complete roll out of Canadian religious education catechetical program for every grade.

The two- to three-year process to develop each grade is time consuming. But we now have a program used in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as some schools in Manitoba, British Columbia, Nunavut and the North West Territories. It is an authentic Catholic program reflecting the reality of our children’s Canadian experience.

The content of each grade varies, but for all grades there are five units based on the liturgical seasons, with a print and digital student resource. Yes, there is assessment of what is being taught,. There is strong content that’s age appropriate for each grade. A theologian approved by the bishops reviews the content, and the program has the approval of the bishop of educational committees.

Each grade contains three websites: a student/home website that contains links to media, videos and downloadable images, and a parent section called “This Week at Home,” with family activities, prayers and links to program content. There is a teacher website that includes lessons, resources and links to audio, as well as professional development modules. Finally, there’s a parish website that  supports the religious education program being taught in the school.

In Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ, Catholic schools have a comprehensive catechetical tool to bring students into relationship with Jesus and the Church. They learn the fullness of the faith. As Catholic schools have grown, so has their curriculum sophistication and programming. No longer can the argument be made that students learn nothing about their faith in Catholic schools, that the program is delivered in a “hodge podge” fashion with important aspects missing or that religious education is just touchy feely, thinking whatever you want is okay.

The program designers have ensured a rigorous, theologically, and pedagogically appropriate program. It will require school boards to ensure updated purchase of the resources, both the core and some of the optional print and electronic access to the program, and support for parish teams to be aware of the program rhythms and cycles. Imagine if all three parts of the so call triad — home, parish and school — were on the same page. The program would be even more successful.

The most recent Grade 7 iteration, for example, is challenging in support of our Catholic faith. Chapters deal with “what we learn about God’s kingdom from Scripture,” “what can we learn about God’s kingdom from the Mass,” “how we teach bringing Christ to the world,” “how we live in solidarity with God” and so on. Units also deal with St. Teresa of Avila, Blessed Maria Cabrini, St. Louis, St. Felicity and St. Jude. There is a detailed catechetical document for the local school community.

There is still much to do. We need to ensure every teacher receives training to teach this program. We need to ensure religious education, while tied to our catechetical program, is found in all subjects taught in Catholic schools, including e-learning. The Catholic world view must infuse subjects. We must be mindful of the words of Pope John Paul II that “the world does not need more teachers, it needs more witnesses.”

Ultimately, everyone in Catholic schools should be witnesses to the faith.

(John B. Kostoff an educator, an author, serves as the Executive Director of OCSOA and is a frequent contributor to The Register.)

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