Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
Faith comes alive for Red Deer teachers
Program builds community among new teachers
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
A rich melding of faith and community is being woven into the lives of Red Deer Catholic School Division's new teachers.
The division is giving this gift to its employees through a unique formation program aimed at developing the faith and community life of teachers hired by the district.
The almost two-year-old Catholic Teacher Formation program - somewhat similar to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults - offers six two-hour sessions on everything from building Catholic community and Scripture, to the Eucharist and liturgical planning.
Program coordinator Wanda Lehman, who is also the division's faith development coordinator, said the course not only informs new teachers about their faith, but also integrates them into the Catholic community.
"It's not a theology course," said Lehman. "It's a journey of faith, focused on teachers' sharing their personal stories and their personal faith with one another."
The program's main objective is to help teachers live their faith, not just teach it, she said. "It's not about acquiring a lot of religious knowledge, but about feeling comfortable with our own faith journey and being able to share that with our fellow teachers and also our students."
The program, which began in September and runs until Jan. 22, is a requirement for new teachers in the division's 12 schools. More than 50 took it last year and 38 are taking it this year. Some 19 seasoned teachers and support staff - all volunteers - plan the sessions.
Lehman was inspired to create the program because of her many years of working with teachers and the RCIA in Wainwright, Camrose and Red Deer.
As she journeyed through the division schools as the division's faith development coordinator, Lehman encountered teachers "who weren't always sure of the Catholic teaching and didn't always know where to go for answers."
Parishes are also large and "sometimes they felt a bit lonely."
So she approached her superintendent and the division began a program using the RCIA model. Lehman and division principal Jamie McNamara designed and co-ordinate the program.
"I was trying to tap into the richness of the RCIA formation and bring that into our school division so that there was a strong sense of Catholic identity and community created along with an opportunity to share and grow in faith as well as professionally," she said.
The initial program, which was partially funded by the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement, ran for almost 10 weeks, since it offered both faith and professional development components.
Based on teacher feedback, the professional development component was dropped and meetings reduced to six two-hour sessions.
The program theme this year is We Are a Gospel People. All sessions are held at St. Vladimir Parish Hall and include a meal and lots of prayer, Lehman noted. "We have a liturgy every session; it's very powerful."
At each session, participants and their mentors break into small discussion groups and journey through the evening. "Each evening we start (by examining) our lives and then we look at a Church teaching and then we go back into discussion groups," explained Lehman.
What has sold the program through the division is its emphasis on building community, said Lehman. "Teachers link up with others in the division, they get a social life and a chance to feel comfortable and safe on these evenings."
Another mark of the program's success is that several teachers who took last year's program decided to continue the journey and now are part of the program's team.
Gerry Doll, a teacher for 13 years, joined the Red Deer Catholic Division last year as a teacher at St. Patrick's Community School and was told to take the program. Doll plays hockey and some of the games are late at night. So he found it a challenge to make it to the sessions.
"But once you got there, it was always an uplifting experience. And you would come out after whatever time commitment you put into it feeling refreshed and feeling good about yourself."
A cradle Catholic and now a program mentor, Doll rarely experienced times when Catholics got together to talk about spirituality, the sacraments and Scripture.
"This formation program is definitely a vehicle for this. It meets a need I think is out there."