Leadership 100 has awarded a grant of $80,000 in 2014 to the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to publish a new textbook and teacher’s guide for Grade 4, following an earlier grant of $81,759 in 2012 to publish a new textbook for Grade 5, both part of a new textbook series titled, “Living Our Orthodox Faith.”
The textbooks hadn’t been revised in more than 20 years as it is a long and expensive process to undertake. The fifth grade text, God Calls Us, published in 1993, culminated a ten year process of development and production of new textbooks for parish use. The first four books: Me and My World, Loving God, Sharing God’s World, and Growing with God had taken religious education materials out of the 1970s by presenting the faith in a holistic, integrated, and very colorful manner, but even these books were showing their age.
Dr. Tony Vrame, Director of the Department of Religious Education noted, “While the lives of saints, the stories from the Bible, and the dogma of our Church had not changed, the world in which our Faith was now being presented certainly had. The Internet didn’t exist, there were no cell phones, or social media. Our Orthodox world had expanded significantly, from our awareness and activity with the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the ongoing stream of information from missionaries and social ministries both in the US and overseas. New materials had to present this larger world of our Church along with the timeless elements of our Faith.”
Textbook revisions are a complex process of strategy sessions within the Department of Religious Education, review of the content of the existing books was done, making elements in one book consistent with the series, and a production strategy. The Department chose to start with the fifth grade and work down, rather than start “at the bottom” with first grade and work up so that students “work into the new series.” That way students don’t get a brand new book in one year, then in the next return to the old materials.
Many new features were added in the revision of the fifth grade textbook, including connecting stories from the Bible, especially their locations, to the experience of the Church in the same places today. For example, in the Old Testament, Moses received the Ten Commandments traditionally at Mt. Sinai and that storyline continues to be told. Now, information about the Monastery of St. Catherine’s in the Sinai at the foot of the mountain has been added. In the unit on the life of Christ, information about the shrines in the Holy Land, “where Jesus walked” has been added. In the teacher’s guide, the teaching strategies have been updated, shifting from the traditional Sunday Church school exercise in reading aloud to many more group activities and interactive questions.
Half of the new materials for grade five have been “put to bed.” Completion is expected in September, except for the teacher’s guide that must reflect the final versions of the pupil’s materials, but these too are sailing along as well. Now the Department begins the same process for grade four, thanks to the new Leadership 100 grant.