By Celine Klosterman
Every day, Summer Kopet said, she looks forward to the new religion and advisory class at Regina Junior/Senior High School in Iowa City.
Learning prayers, debating issues such as cyber-bullying, performing skits, writing and sharing devotions, and exploring the meaning of Bible verses all make the Via de Cristo program enjoyable, the eighth-grader said.
Regina teachers are glad to hear it. About five months into the program for seventh- and eighth-graders, faculty members are optimistic about its potential for offering education on Catholicism and giving religious guidance on issues facing teens.
The idea for the class, whose Latin name means “Way of Christ,” formed last year. Then, instructors were teaching subjects such as adolescent skills and health separately from religion, Principal Dave Krummel said. “The goal was to bring together very different subjects that really should be taught under one roof.”
So, several teachers developed a program last summer to achieve that goal. Now, instead of attending a religion class, a health class and an adolescent skills class, Regina students attend one class that covers all three subjects. Units address topics such as sacraments and the saints, but also explore character building, digital citizenship, leadership, manners and other matters from a faith-based perspective.
For example, while debating a case involving a mean-spirited use of the social networking site Facebook, students in Diane Coffin’s class looked up Bible verses to support their views. “It’s blending Scripture with contemporary issues,” said Coffin. She and teachers Paul McCaffrey, Barb Reilly and Joan Belknap helped develop Via de Cristo. McCaffrey, Coffin and Reilly are among eight faculty members who volunteered to teach it.
For eighth-grader Jamisyn Firkins, a highlight of the program is planning a Mass. Each month, a different class takes the lead in doing so. “It’s really fun and everyone gets involved.”
Most of the Masses are celebrated in the school, thanks in part to priests such as Father Mike Phillips, pastor of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, who helps find celebrants. But the next Eucharistic celebration students plan will be for the local community – Feb. 16 at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City.
“Students are always curious about when the next Mass is,” Coffin said. “It seems like the more we include them, the more they want to be involved.”
Regina hopes working toward a common goal — whether it’s planning a Mass or doing a class service project — builds a sense of unity among students. Though seventh- and eighth-graders usually attend separate classes, the students sit next to each other in Via de Cristo. “It’s opened some interesting discussions and created better relationships between them than I’ve ever seen,” Krummel said.
To foster student-advisor relationships, seventh-graders will be assigned next year to the same teacher they have now. Research shows middle-school students need a strong advisory program with an adult who can guide and support youths during a “tumultuous time,” Krummel said. A trusted faculty member can talk with students about their academic or social issues, or arrange a visit with the school counselor.
The principal credited teachers for simply making Via de Cristo possible. “This wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have faculty willing to step outside the box and think about what’s in the best interest of students.”
“As they move into high school, we hope this class will serve as a foundation for their faith.”