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Archives Partly online, partly in-person: Hybrid learning

Dec. 23, 2020

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing Writer

While some parishes adopted models that are entirely in-person or virtual, others are using hybrid models, which are a combination of both. In the midst of the pandemic, there are advantages and disadvantages to each mode of instruction. Pastors and catechists proffered some highlights of each.

Msgr. Robert H. Aucoin, Episcopal Vicar for Education and the New Evangelization, commented that on-line programs “put more responsibility on the parents to teach the faith and actually helps” them grow spiritually in the process. Though, home education is sometimes “hard to do.”

Pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Waddington and St. John the Baptist Church in Madrid, Msgr. Aucoin said a few “parents meet about once a month with the formation director.” He reflected that they have a small parish, but their on-line program seems to be working really well.

The importance of programming
“In a hybrid model it’s important that the parish finds whatever program it wants to use,” Msgr. Aucoin explained. “The program is more important, perhaps, than the texts or the actual apps that are going to be used because those are instruments to help the parish achieve its goal of faith formation. At the parish level, I think there are probably more aids out there for education, especially for on-line education, than we ever thought possible. The publishers have done a good job of adapting to the new reality. At our parish we’re using Gospel Weeklies because it ties so well with the liturgy.”

Instruction during the pandemic
Despite the inconvenience of changing instruction methods due to COVID-19, some pastors and catechists noted benefits as well.

“Something I think that is important is: do we really want it to be back to the way it was?” Msgr Aucoin said. “Because, oftentimes in faith formation at a parish level, it is somewhat hit and miss; we don’t really know what happens from one week to another, the kids come and go, the parents come and go. So, in some ways the pandemic is helping us by forcing us, actually, to find a better model for delivering faith formation to our children and families.”

Deb Mullin, director of Religious Education at the Catholic Community of St. Peter, St. Mary, St. Hedwig in Lowville, explained that since their area recently had an upsurge in COVID-19 cases, they are currently “using the Gospel Weeklies, and they can do it right from home; they all have the digital access.”

Planning for classes
“As far as in person, we have good numbers,” Mullin continued. “We have at least eight in each class. In confirmation we actually have 16. So, they’re in person one week and at home the next week because we can only have four classes at a time. Kindergarten is all remote, online, because of spacing. It’s going very well. They keep their masks on. Some of the catechists will take them outside, if it’s nice out, so they can walk around and take their masks off. They are very good.” Children “have their own folder which goes home with them each week. They are the only ones that touch it, and the Gospel Weeklies are in there.”

Every student also has their own special bag with supplies.

Keeping in touch with families
Even when the program is entirely virtual, Mullin said that the catechists keep in touch with families. They “email the parents just to help them out with the digital thing ‘til they get the hang of it.”

The email gives tips to help parents go through the lesson with their children, references where to find resources, the relevant page numbers, etc. They also “send a video [that comes from Gospel Weeklies] for that week . . . . It goes through the whole lesson with them and teaches them how to do it at home.”

Mullin said lessons include a five-question assessment “geared to each week’s lesson and they can do it on-line.” In addition, there is a “Parent teaching guide.” Parents stay in touch with the catechists and vice versa.
Mullin said she really likes the program and thinks that it “will help them [the children] to be comfortable at Mass, to understand it.”

A family and community effort
Carol O’Brien Gonthier, director of Faith Formation for the parish communities of Norfolk, Raymondvill and Norwood, reflected that “Everyone has their stories, and many will be told for years to come.”

“We, as with many others, are a program of various school districts, and communities that come together due to a number of reasons, but all with the same want,” Gonthier said. “We have moms, dads, great-grandparents, and great-aunts working with us to help develop and share our faith to our youngest of parishioners.”

Although the program for St. Mary’s in Canton is virtual, Father Bryan D. Stitt shared that they’re “hoping to be able to do some in-person events during the year; for years we’ve made Advent wreaths and families fill-up the tables in the gym. We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to do a modified version of that. Right now we’re planning for it and a couple other events during the school year because there is still such a need to interact in-person. We’ll see how that all plays out. But, it’s so much better in-person than the Zoom meetings and all that.”

Father Stitt said the Spirit of Truth program they’re using from Sophia Institute Press is “a great resource, but we’re appreciative of people doing things in-person, whether that’s studying in their homes or coming to Church in worship. So to the degree that they can do that, there’s nothing better.”

Preparing for virtual learning
Although their program is currently in-person, Gonthier discussed protocols they’ve implemented for on-line learning.

“Various levels of technology abilities can add to the challenge of getting the Word out, especially when we are not able to gather in person,” she said. “We are working to develop the access to the same remote learning that they are using in the six different school districts that are a part of us. With Google Classrooms, they can access any of their assignments and projects right from their homes. We have pick up times for any craft materials the catechists may want to share for them to do while at home. Also, right within their Google Classroom, they can hold a live video meet. While we prefer to meet in-person, this is a means to do our best to gather. When COVID-19 first hit we did our best to send the weekly readings and some activities by email to each of the families. In time we learned to utilize our website to post these lessons as well. Now we hope to also be able to use our Google classrooms to better ‘meet’ with our children and families in case remote learning is necessary.”

They have met once in-person, and once remote so far this school year.

Reaching out to families has also become virtual: “We will hold our three parent meetings for each sacrament online this year due to COVID-19, but really enjoy the interaction in person when we can,” conveyed Gonthier.

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