By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

Parish schools of religion are using various formats to catechize their children and youth in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Isidore Church in Baker kicked off its PSR program with a traditional in-person format on Sept. 16, according to Monice Oliphant, director of religious formation at St. Isidore. The church is also providing the same resources online for students who will not be coming to campus for classes because of safety concerns.

“We were very fortunate that our publisher also has an online curriculum,” Oliphant said.

She said only about 10% of the parents chose to “homeschool” their children.

Oliphant has had two meetings with the parents and assured them that temperature checks would be taken and all the safety and social distancing protocols would be followed on campus. She said St. Isidore is fortunate that it has larger classrooms and smaller class sizes.

The children will sit at tables as normal, but a child may have only one other child at the table instead of four or five.

Those children taking classes online will have assignments and quizzes. Oliphant will see through their online activity and answers to quizzes if they are sufficiently learning the material.

Oliphant was initially concerned when a director of religious education in another part of the country said during a publisher’s webinar that all of the catechists in that parish resigned because of concerns about COVID-19.

Oliphant then surveyed the St. Isidore catechists and teachers, who are enthusiastically supporting the program.

“All of them are excited to come back,” said Oliphant. “They were tired of isolation. They are ready to get back to parish life.”

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in St. Francisville is taking a hybrid approach to its PSR classes, according to Mary Godke, director of religious education.

In order to accommodate the PSR and sacramental program, OLMC is staggering its schedule.

The third- through 10th-grade PSR classes are meeting once a month on different days. Assignments are emailed to the students, who will need to complete and submit them during the monthly class meetings or return them to the parish office for those unable to attend classes on campus.

Students in second grade preparing for the sacrament of first Communion and 11th graders preparing for the sacrament of confirmation will meet twice a month, according to Godke.

Kindergarten and first graders will receive weekly assignments, but they will not meet in person at this time.

Godke said concerning the sacramental prep classes, “They’ve been doing very well. We use a Dynamic Catholic (“Blessed” for first Communion students and “Decision Point” for confirmation students). It makes for a very easy transition during the weeks they are not here on campus.”

St. Mark Church in Gonzales reports there was good participation with its younger students, most of whom have completed their PSR lessons from home during the summer with materials provided by the church. The high school youth are meeting at various locations on campus following all safety and social distance guidelines, according to Renae Schexnaydre, who is the PSR high school principal.

“We are blessed to have a campus large enough for the classes and students to maintain social distancing,” said Schexnaydre.

St. Mark’s is utilizing its pavilion, library, activity center and church for classes.

At Mater Dolorosa Church in Independence, the students are participating in a virtual classroom, according to Allison Dreher, director of evangelization and catechesis.

Students watch informational videos by priests and other catechists. After the videos questions pop up for them to answer. The catechists will mark their progress though their online activity and answers.

Teens will have opportunities to delve deep into their faith with videos and other resources that urge them to look at what influences are shaping their world point view.

“I don’t know if they have ever thought about that,” said Dreher.

She misses the personal encounters with students, but thinks that the virtual classes will provide them a way to encounter Jesus, the church and its traditions and be guided by the Holy Spirit.

As Dreher adapts to a new learning environment and troubleshoots problems that come with online presentations, she believes it will  benefit the students and church community.

“It helps me to provide a better learning experience,” said Dreher.