Six Ways to Build Community in Your Parish November 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:00 am

We’re outgrowing our church … and it’s all Fr. Felipe’s fault. Well, not fault. Credit. The fact is, we’ve had our pastor only a short time but he’s awakened so much of the parish. Since he got here, we’ve had a phenomenal adult retreat, several great retreats for teens, small faith communities forming, numerous Bible study groups, a fellowship ministry, some truly inspiring guest speakers and parish missions… and I’m sure I must be forgetting some things. Now, we have so many people meeting at the parish almost every night that it’s getting hard to find room for all the groups to meet. People are getting to know each other’s names.

I’ve reached the point where I wouldn’t want to move, because I’d miss my parish. That’s big.

Not every pastor has the time or ability to plan so many things to bring the parish together. I realize we are incredibly fortunate. But I think most parishes could do some of these things, and that most pastors would bless these activities if they didn’t have to arrange them personally. So I’m going to list a few of the things our parish is doing or has done that have helped us to become far more of a community.

1. Friends of Fatima. This is a local ministry that I’m pretty sure this one was organized by lay people, with the pastor’s approval. It’s a group of people who have set about doing whatever they can to encourage fellowship. They serve donuts after morning Mass to get people sticking around and talking instead of rushing to their cars. They put on an annual harvest dinner (a real winner in a farming community). They help with other events throughout the year, and they have really brought a feeling of camaraderie to our little parish. If your parish doesn’t have a fellowship group and needs one, consider being the one to spark that fire.

2. COR retreats for teens. These are made available for young people in the parish, and have done a really good job of lighting a fire. The adult planners (as well as teens who have been through the retreat already) partner with new retreatants for a memorable experience. Our confirmation students are required to attend one retreat during their two year preparation; it can be this or another retreat, but I’ve never heard a kid regret attending COR. This is a larger movement, not just our parish, but unfortunately I don’t know where to get information about a program. My best suggestion would be to talk to someone at a parish hosting one in your area to find out what would be necessary to bring them to your parish.

3. Sacred Heart Evangelization Retreat. I haven’t been to a COR, but I have been to a Sacred Heart Evangelization retreat, and it was life changing. It brought enthusiasm and friendship to a whole new level at our parish, and had a long-lasting effect of helping us to build small faith communities that are strengthening our faith and giving us a study and support network that makes so much of the retreat’s effects more permanent.

4. Parish missions. If your parish is not having some sort of mission, I’m surprised. However, if you want a recommendation for one that really moved us, I suggest Brendan Case. He is a layman who leads parish missions, and has a gift for reaching different groups of people. Our parish was really buzzing after he came here, and I know that my teen daughter really felt that it changed her life for the better.

5. Bible Study. While it’s true that any group of people can get together and study the Bible together, you will get much more out of it if it is parish sponsored and has solid guidance. I highly — oh, SO highly — recommend Jeff Cavins’ Great Bible Adventure. Jeff Cavins is extraordinarily gifted both with knowledge of Scripture and with the ability to explain it. The program comes with CDs or DVDs of his talks, which are followed up with group discussion in your small group. I recommend a group of 8-16 participants. The DVD program is a bit of an expenditure; most families won’t be able to buy it. On a parish level, though, it is very much worth the cost of (if I recall correctly) around $300. It can be re-used with one bible study group after another.

6. Finally, there’s you and me. We Catholics are often not as good as we ought to be at fellowship. When you go into the church, look for someone you know but not well. Go up to them and smile, and say hello. Tell them it’s good to see them. No program in the world can ever replace genuine human kindness and friendliness. Even we can learn it, if we try.


Absent with Leave September 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 2:44 pm

(or at least an excuse.)

I’m sorry, gentle reader, for my neglect. You see, we have recently undergone a certain life change in our home. To be more accurate, I’m the one who has changed status, from SAHM to student. I’ve gone back to school to study for a Master-In-Teaching degree.

It’s all rather exciting, daunting, and disconcerting… all at once. It’s exciting because I’m enjoying my courses, fellow students (actually they call us a cohort) and the prospect of a career. I’ve always believed I had a gift for teaching, and right now I’m feeling called. I believe God is leading me this direction.

Which leads to the daunting aspect. The fact is that I’ve been a homeschooler and stay at home mom for so many years (17 as a homeschooler, 20 as a stay at home mom) that the idea of trading it all in feels like a betrayal. I’ve always said I respect people for making a choice about what’s best for their children, whether that choice is school, homeschool, or some other option. Yet when I am “crossing the line” I feel like I’m losing my identity and betraying those I’ve felt a kinship with in the past. I have to just breathe deeply, ask for guidance, and recommit myself to doing what I believe God wants of me at this point in my life, and not let my own self image interfere.

Do I still identify with homeschoolers? Yes. I still think of myself that way, and in fact I still have a daughter studying at home via an online public school program. And I have a son in kindergarten at the local school, because in his case there is little doubt in my mind that he needs it. Nobody has given me a hard time about going back to school to become a teacher; in fact, I’ve gotten nothing but support and positive words from everyone I know. Still, I feel weird about the whole thing.

The weirdest part is that I find myself identifying with teachers,, and classrooms, and classroom management, and all those things that really had an “otherness” feel about them before. I never thought teachers were the enemy, so why do I feel like a traitor?

I know this change of perspective is necessary if I am to succeed as a teacher. I need to think about things like a less individualized curriculum, and large group discipline, and seating arrangements and desks and notes home. Somehow, though, it feels like I’m leaving something behind. So it’s exciting, yes; but also bittersweet.

I imagine that the tone of my blog will change as I make this transition from housewife to student to new teacher to career person. I don’t think I’m changing tremendously, but I’m sure going to find myself in new circumstances, and responding to them. I pray that none of this will distract me from my truest calling, to know, love, and serve God in this world, preparing to be happy with Him in the next.

I invite you to go on this journey with me. I’m going to need the prayers.


Phonics Resources November 24, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:36 am

As some of you know, we are teaching our four year old to read. Now, he’s a very bright child, but he is also hyperactive, and sometimes has a hard time sitting still long enough to really learn. He also has an extremely literal language style, so sometimes we need to approach a subject from several perspectives to get its fullness across. After a lot of searching and experimenting, I’d like to share a few things that have really worked out well.

It’s a website loaded with games and music, and Hypertot loves it. It is his favorite thing to do. I mean that literally. They sing songs that teach short and long vowels. They lead children through the process of sounding out letters in stories phonetically. They organize by particular phonetic rules, so it can be done in logical groupings or in the order of your own phonics program. And it’s free. I can’t recommend Starfall enough.

Bob Books
This is a series of books that spend more time teaching by doing than instructing rules. Each book focuses on just a few letter sounds, and the books progress toward increasingly difficult phonetic concepts. The beauty of these books is that they give even the earliest reader the opportunity to read a real book, with just a few words on each page. And they do this not by having a limited vocabulary reader and memorizing words, but by using phonics progressively. The only downside is that the set comes in very small books.

Victory Drill Book
This book is not a phonics book, but can work well with a phonics program. It focuses on increasing fluency and speed, by having children read lists of phonetically related words without any other context. It might sound pointless, having lists of words without any story, pictures, or context; but actually the lack of context is the beauty of this program. It forces a child to read the words, not guess them. It also begins to teach them the concept of onsets and rimes (the beginning sounds and end chunks of like words), by presenting similar words together in a list. This is not a stand-alone program, but it can be very useful for building fluency, or for supplementing another program or collection of materials.

Reading Pathways
This I chose because it meets a very specific need for us. Hypertot was having a hard time making the transition from reading individual phonetic sounds to reading words. He would read every word as a collection of sounds, and by the time he had the word sounded out he couldn’t remember what he’d already read. Reading Pathways actually works a child through the transition from sounding out letters to reading words phonetically. It brings a child to reading “whole words” without a whole language approach but rather a phonics approach. I have never seen any other product like it, but I can tell you that Hypertot showed a stunning and immediate improvement in his comprehension from the moment we began using this book.


More on History Odyssey June 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:14 am

I’m posting again on History Odyssey, because two people left questions about it it the comments. Now that I’ve had a little experience it’s time for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Well, the bad isn’t terribly bad. So I’ll start there. Basically, it does require preparation in the sense that you kind of need to have all of the spine materials before you start. It is rather hard to get off to a good start while buying the materials piecemeal. The timeline can be a pain to make, so it might be worth buying one, even though it feels like a waste of money. For all these reasons, I have to admit that I haven’t gotten very far in the program yet.

The good is that what we have done has gone smoothly. The organization of it is every bit as good as I had initially thought. Because it’s so well organized, it is fairly easy to supplement with discussions, web pages, and anything else that suits the subject at hand. One thing I’d like to see added is suggested vocabulary words. Also, I would recommend that parents using this program have at least some of the materials covered at least some of the time as read aloud. Not only does this give some extra together time, but it gives you a chance to answer questions as they come up rather than later. The Story of Mankind is a bit old, and the language somewhat archaic to modern middle schoolers, so covering some of it together takes the edge off, and can be a positive experience. It reads aloud well.

The ugly… well, I haven’t found any yet. I really like it so far. In answer to Nancy’s question, I have not found anything either pro- or anti-Catholic. I checked through TSOM, which looked like the spine material with the most opportunity for bias, and found none whatsoever. I jumped to the chapter on the reformation, and even that was extremely evenhanded. I literally could not tell what the author’s personal beliefs were in a religious sense. Naturally, I haven’t been through all of the side readings yet, but so far everything looks good.


Here We Go A-Wasl-ing April 26, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 9:42 am

It’s that time of year again: the students in Washington State schools walk through their disrupted school days with the burden of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning on their shoulders. Dire warnings follow them about the need to pass the test and the importance of making their school look good. Every student must pass, but fifty percent will fail.

No, it isn’t a failure on the part of the schools that causes this fifty percent failure rate; the failure rate is built in. Only the top half of tests pass.

I find it ironic that while the state is requiring that half of all students fail, and half of all schools fail, at the local level they are still engaging the “self esteem movement” methods. My daughter’s school has an awards ceremony every month, where three different students from each class get awards each time… a different three students. And that isn’t even counting the perfect attendance awards that are granted not annually but monthly. The awards are geared, essentially, toward ensuring that almost every student be told, at least once in the year, that he is the best.

Both extremes are wrong. To say that every student is the best waters down the honor of genuine accomplishment and recognition; yet to require half of all students to fail sets an impossible standard for those who struggle in school. It seems logical, even obvious, that any contest in which everyone wins doesn’t measure much, and any test in which half fail is an indictment on the whole system (in this case, the WASL system).

As a parent of gifted children, I object to both measurements. I don’t want to see my kids automatically win, because it takes away the incentive to try. I don’t want them rewarded, either, for their intelligence. They did not work for that, and can’t take much credit. I want to see them work for acknowledgement, in areas that require effort. To me, a perfect attendance award or an A in homework means a lot more than a “You’re Smart” certificate.

I also don’t want to see other kids required to fail simply because my kids were born fortunate. If the test were objective, it would be much fairer; but regardless of how objective the WASL promoters claim it is, if children’s success is only judged competitively, by how they measure against other children, it isn’t objective. The “smart” kids are going to fill the passing percentile ranks, and the kids who struggle are going to get beaten down again and again. I don’t think it’s fair that hard working kids who are learning should be penalized simply because tests come easier to my kids.

Finally, I think it very short-sighted that we make so much rest upon a single test. It practically ensures that schools will “teach the test,” which has multiple harmful results. It means that they are spending more time learning how to test and less time learning how to think. It means that they are spending more time learning the specific types of information teachers expect to see on the test, and omitting other equally necessary information not likely to appear on the test. It implies that only information tested by the WASL matters, and that the writers of the WASL are all-wise and never err in educational judgment.

It also homogenizes learning. Robert Frost said “The best things and best people rise out of their separateness; I’m against a homogenized society because I want the cream to rise.” If we really believe in the uniqueness of the gifts of each child (as the self esteem movement would have us see), then we should allow children to explore divergent paths of learning. The more we gauge their learning by monolithic tests, and use those tests alone to judge them and their schools, the more we reduce their opportunity to learn independently. Children who must “learn the test” do not have time to learn things like research and logic sufficiently, because those things require independent exploration, and take away from time spent learning the specific topics covered on the test.

The result is that those who are gifted in one area but poor in another will spend a lot of time trying to overcome their difficulty in the area of challenge and very little time developing their giftedness. It means we wind up with a lot of competent students, but fewer and fewer who ever develop their potential for giftedness.

Those schools that have trouble passing the WASL, and those parents whose students perform poorly on the test, will undoubtedly complain that the test is not fair; and undoubtedly, their cries will be ignored as so many sour grapes. So let me go on record, as a parent of gifted children, with my criticism. My children will ace the tests; but I still know that the test still isn’t wise. We should be encouraging success, not requiring failure.