A new religious education curriculum for the diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes is touching the hearts and minds of students as well as those of their parents, principals, teachers and clergy.
The Educating in Christ program, based upon Professor Gerard O’Shea’s book of the same name, builds upon the work of childhood education pioneer Maria Montessori and creator of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Sofia Cavalletti to engage primary children of varying ages, abilities and interests in learning about the Catholic faith.
“There’s nothing better than to see the light of faith go on in someone’s heart and mind.” Bishop Macbeth-Green
Wilcannia-Forbes Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green officially launched the program in Forbes on 3 December along with Anthony Gordon, the diocese’s director of Catholic Education, and Professor O’Shea, who is the assistant director and head of the diocesan Mission and Religious Education team.
Bishop Macbeth-Green said that religious education in the diocese had been long overdue for an update and was delighted to see the new hands-on program in action. “I’ve watched it in classrooms being taught and kids just light up,” the bishop said.
“There’s nothing better than to see the light of faith go on in someone’s heart and mind. For me that’s one of the most rewarding experiences that a bishop can possibly ever have.”
The bishop thanked the Mission and Religious Education team for its ongoing work in directing the program and thanked all for their support and encouragement of the “groundbreaking” initiative.
Guests at the launch included the executive director of Catholic Schools NSW Dallas MacInerney, director of education at CSNSW Danielle Cronin, deputy director of National Catholic Education Commission Peter Hamil (representing the executive director Jacinta Collins), principal of Red Bend Catholic Secondary College Stephen Dwyer, and principal of St Laurence’s primary school in Forbes Paula Leadbitter.
Also present were the diocese’s chancellor Hugo Ditroia and parish priest of St Laurence’s Church in Forbes Father Simon Apablaza.
Mr Gordon said the program, which has been implemented across the 18 diocesan schools this year and already sparked interest across Australia and overseas, was a “world first” in developing the foundational work of Montessori and Cavalletti into a structured Kindergarten to Year 6 curriculum for classroom use.
“When you see this religious education in action, you can see why there is such unity (in embracing the program),” he said. “It works. The students in our schools are thoroughly engaged in learning about the Catholic faith and their teachers are enjoying teaching a fresh and dynamic program where they see their students happy and engaged.”
Professor O’Shea paid tribute to the teachers, principals, parents and clergy who as part of a diocesan-wide review process into education from 2017-2018 expressed a desire for a new RE program that was engaging and effective.
Educating in Christ is an adaptation of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for use in primary schools, including the use of smaller materials, instruction booklets for teachers, and journals to allow for student assessment.
The program is aimed at the “sensitive” period of child development as younger students respond best to tactile materials, Professor O’Shea said. “Nothing is taught in this program that is not based on concrete material, either 3-dimensional or 2-dimensional,” he explained.
“It’s not just the teacher who is teaching, the environment is the teacher, because as Cavalletti so aptly but it, human learning moves from the body, to heart, to mind.”
Year 3 and 4 teacher at St Laurence’s Primary School in Forbes Kerry Turner said it is the best method of teaching religion she had ever seen. “As a practicing Catholic all my life and learning to teach RE in different types of ways this is the program that speaks the best to children and to teachers,” she said. “I feel so privileged and so lucky to be here to experience it.”
Her colleague, Year 5 and 6 teacher Vicki Cavallaro, said that the children have the freedom to develop at their own pace a “great depth of understanding”, of the connections between the Scriptures, liturgy and the sacraments.
Lucy Maslin, 12, said she likes doing religion “in the new way,” at school. “We’ve got the response time to really think it and I like to use playdough and draw and paint in that time,” she said. “I feel a lot more connected to God.”
At St Joseph’s Parish School in Condobolin, principal Jude Ryan said the program was also well-suited to students with additional needs.