Since the arrival of our first Chinese students a few years ago now, one of the challenges for them and for their teachers is integrating them fully into our Theology program. The students from China come to us from a culture where the practice of religious faith was banned for many years and continues to be rare today. Not only is the Catholic Faith unknown to most of them, the idea of religious belief and practice is a new concept.
The Theology Department struggled with this issue and came up with an idea.
This year we are trying something different; it’s called Catechetical Practicum, a rather imposing name for a fairly simple program. We have selected some of our seniors who practice the faith and know it well to work with the Chinese students and teach them one on one. For the Chinese students they are placed in this program instead of a Theology class; for the seniors this takes the place of senior Theology.
Meghan Powell and Julia Grady are teaching our four newest Chinese students the basic beliefs of the Catholic Church and introduce them to Catholic practice. The girls plan lessons and assessments and even a final project that challenge the students and help them to learn.
Catechetical Practicum has proven to be a benefit for both Chinese students, their teachers, and our seniors.
Here Meghan and Julia share some thoughts on the program.
The most exciting unit we worked on was throughout December. I came up with the idea of taking a break from the textbook we had been using and really engaging with our students. Julia and I were so excited to be able to teach the Chinese Exchange Students about Christmas, not only the Nativity story, but also the traditions that come along with the season. They learned about the Annunciation and Nativity stories, and the International students were exposed to the history behind the candy cane and Christmas tree. They made ornaments for their host families and even watched some Christmas movies ranging from scenes of the Nativity to Elf. Along with a month of celebrating traditions, we made sure to emphasize the importance of the season as Jesus is the reason we celebrate. It was important for them to know that we, as a society, tend to lose sight on the meaning behind Christmas when we are too caught up in presents and holiday parties.
Last year, when I was first got to know many of the international students at our school, I would often ask them what their favorite and least favorite subjects were. Their favorites ranged between anything from Science to Art but they consistently struggled with Theology. I then began spending one class period a day working one-on-one with two of the more recent exchange students on the theology material. I would take time going over the fundamentals of the religion and what practicing Catholics believe. When new international students come to our school, they now have time to work with their peers and getting an introduction to the material, rather than immediately starting the Theology course. As being one of the two students in the program this year, I have worked with four students every day, and I have had the privilege of becoming friends with them. As the program has progressed, I have been rewarded by seeing these students grow and having the opportunity to develop friendships with them. I hope that this new program will continue to help more international students adapt, and give students like me the opportunity to give back to our school community.
One International student that has benefited from this experience is Belinda Shi. Belinda feels that she can understand theology more because of her face to face experience. If the students have a questions, they are not afraid to ask. They love being able to communicate so closely with their classmates and she says that they are so helpful.