Students teach students about the faith

By  Alejandra Castaneda, YSN
  • November 24, 2006
NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. - When Thomas Parente found out that St. Pius X parish in North Vancouver was in need of catechism teachers, he willingly signed up to spend Tuesday nights with a group of Grade 6 students.

"I began to participate because it was a great way for me to strengthen my relationship with my co-teacher and most importantly give back to the Catholic community," said Parente.

In the archdiocese of Vancouver, particularly in North Vancouver parishes, high school students are getting involved in their parishes through the Parish Religious Education Program, or PREP. PREP is designed for elementary school children to learn about their Catholic faith while attending public schools. This program runs roughly as long as the school year and takes place once a week in parishes. 

Suzie DuQuesne, PREP co-ordinator at St. Pius X parish, has seen an increase in student participation at her parish in the past two to four years. She has encouraged the contribution of high school youth whenever possible.

"Having high school students teaching PREP is great. They are young and so vibrant. Kids seem to relate better to them because they are not parents," said DuQuesne. "With teens, children can truly say (they) can look up to these teachers."

Nevertheless DuQuesne acknowledges that sometimes some of these young teachers struggle with the planning and flow of the religious education hour.

Usually, PREP teachers are adults, or senior members of the parish community. However, at St. Pius X and Holy Trinity parishes, students, usually in Grade 12, enjoy teaching the basics of the Catholic faith to younger students. The requirements to teach PREP are merely that one attends a Catholic parish and has had some sort of religious education. In the case of a high school student such as Parente, he attends a Catholic high school and receives his religious education there.

Daina Meakes is a regular substitute PREP teacher at Holy Trinity parish who went through PREP when she was younger.

"I used to attend PREP and I remember the good teachers. I also remember that if I hadn't had PREP, I never would have been educated in my faith outside of my family," she said.

Both Parente and Meakes agree it's important to be a teen and teach PREP.

"It shows kids it's not weird to have an interest in your faith," said Meakes.  

"I can relate to these younger kids in that they are beginning to experience obstacles in their lives where religious values must be applied," said Parente. "In the same sense I can bring forth my experiences to provide an example."

Teaching PREP is not an easy task. Classes consist of about 10-15 students per grade and lesson plans must be made for the hour to be used effectively. Furthermore, in Grades 2 and 7 the children receive sacraments (First Communion for the younger ones, Confirmation for Grade 7s), which take a lot of planning and preparation on top of the general course load. High school students must also learn to be patient and able to handle a group of eager children.

"My biggest fear was being boring (and) not being sure of how to present information in an effective manner," said Meakes.

Nevertheless she finds that by including the kids in readings and simple activities such as a question game, everyone has a good time.

Students teach PREP for more than just service hours or a nice addition to their resume.

"I teach PREP because I want to spread the Good News of God and inspire others to follow Him," said Parente.

Meakes agrees. "The fact that you are helping someone grow in their faith is really rewarding. Especially when you can see (students) are genuinely interested in something you are talking about."

(Castaneda, 16, is a Grade 12 student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in North Vancouver.)

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