By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published January 8, 2009
In an effort to more fully impart the Catholic faith to all its children, the Atlanta Archdiocese will be issuing new curriculum guidelines to be used in both parish faith formation programs for children and Catholic schools, from preschool to high school.
The new curriculum guidelines are based on the four pillars presented and explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They are the Creed, the sacraments, Christian living and prayer.
“We wanted a uniform set of expectations to achieve,” said Diane Starkovich, superintendent of Catholic schools.
Starkovich worked with Dennis Johnson Jr., director of the Office of Religious Education, to investigate programs that would meet the archdiocesan goal.
“Our hope was to find common religion curriculum guidelines to be used for all catechesis in parish schools of religion and in our Catholic schools,” Starkovich said.
By joining efforts, she added, the uniform standards will provide a comprehensive approach to faith formation of children offered through parishes and schools while also offering resources to parents, “the primary teachers of the faith.”
Starkovich and Johnson decided upon the program “Journey of Hope 2001” now in place within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The program was developed under the guidance of Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, a Benedictine who serves on the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The curriculum guidelines present clear objectives by grade level and are organized under one of the four pillars, Starkovich said. For example, among other learning goals for a preschooler are understanding that the Bible is a special book about God (Creed pillar); understanding that we are welcomed into God’s family at baptism (sacrament pillar); understanding that priests serve God in a special way (Christian living pillar); and understanding that prayer is talking with God (prayer pillar).
Examples of learning objectives for a high school student include being able to recognize that Jesus is the fullness of God’s revelation (Creed pillar); understanding how the sacraments involve symbols, both word and matter, in their celebration (sacrament pillar); examining a variety of Christian vocations as a response to one’s baptismal call (Christian living pillar); and being able to explain the Catholic use of the Psalms as the content of prayer (prayer pillar).
Evidence of a shift in catechetical instruction began to emerge in the 1990s, first with the release of the English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1994 and the revised General Catechetical Directives in 1997, which is used as a companion to the catechism. This followed years when religious educators had moved away from a more classical approach to religious education, according to Archbishop Buechlein in a 2005 column entitled “Seeking the Face of the Lord: Proper catechesis helps us live our call to holiness.”
“I think (the new curriculum guidelines) are a good way to get back to some core teachings,” Starkovich said.
She explained how the changing dynamics of religious education now place a responsibility on the laity—who are parents and teachers—to be “lifelong learners” of the faith.
“The challenge these days compared to the ‘60s and ‘70s when Catholic identity was a given in schools staffed 60 percent by religious—today it’s 3 percent—is that there are fewer religious and so it is even more incumbent upon us to give clear standards and guidelines.”
Johnson of the ORE is excited about the new guidelines and the ability to assess how well the material is being taught and learned. “It’s family- and parish-based.”
Starkovich also added that while curriculum assessment tools have been in place within the archdiocese, using the new program will allow both offices to better track whether objectives are being met.
A committee of teachers and principals has reviewed the new curriculum guidelines, which are being piloted this spring and will be offered throughout the archdiocese in the fall.
“The feedback from our expert teachers and principals so far is that they are very pleased,” Starkovich said. “We’re excited to be able to roll this out to all teachers who will be using it in the fall.”