Children’s Religious Education: It Takes a Congregation

I attended the recent “Progress Since Laramie” community dialogue on inclusion at Belmont High School (BHS), which is part of programming related to the BHS Performing Arts Council’s (PAC) production of “The Laramie Project” (see below for more information about the play). I was impressed by the number of students at this forum, the participation of some BHS Gay-Straight Alliance members on the panel, including some of our own Youth Group members, and the depth of the comments and sharing that occurred during the evening.laramie

     Somewhat off-hand, though serious and important, comments were made by student panelists and student attendees alike during the dialogue that the sexuality education at the Belmont middle and high schools leaves a lot to be desired, especially as it relates to addressing the need for accurate and age-appropriate information regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. The student(s) who identified as Unitarian Universalist made oblique reference to having access to such important information already, and a question about how to address these issues while still being respectful of religious beliefs was also raised.

     “The Laramie Project,” as a theater-piece is designed to also raise difficult questions about community inclusion. I am thrilled that the BHS-PAC is producing “The Laramie Project.” It reminds me of how proud I was when I heard that my own high school alma mater was doing the show about a decade ago; in fact, it turns out that they are doing is again this fall! I have seen two or three productions of “Laramie” now. And I have also been involved in staging excerpts of “Laramie” as part of the Chancel Drama Practicum course I took at Meadville Lombard in 2010. I encourage everyone to go to the BHS production on November 5-7.

     The good news is that as Unitarian Universalists, the FCB community has been providing values-based sexuality education not only to children of FCB members but also to the wider community for many years. This on-going commitment is evidenced in the upcoming Adult Programs offering “Growing Up Trans” on November 19th (see below), the day before International Transgender Day of Remembrance (11/20 each year, http://tdor.info/) when the deaths of transgender individuals in the past year are memorialized. FCB provides a safe space in which kids can grow up trans if that is their gender identity. Being inclusive is part of who we are as UUs.

     The first UU sexuality education program was called “About Your Sexuality” (referred to as AYS) beginning in 1970. My older siblings both benefited from AYS (we also had sex education in the Minneapolis public schools in the 5th grade and I remember it as being both thorough and age-appropriate, although it reflected the times and was hetero-normative). AYS was revised three times, keeping the information current, for example, by including information on AIDS in 1983.

     My reading of FCB’s history indicates that “The Growing Up Story,” a sex ed. film, was shown to 7th & 8th graders as early as 1954. Twenty of FCB’s Jr. high school kids were enrolled in AYS in 1981.

     In the 1990s the UUA and the United Church of Christ (UCC) began collaborating on a more comprehensive sexuality education program called “Our Whole Lives.” The vision was for curricula that could be taught across the life-span. The first OWL curriculum (OWL Grades 7-9 [1999]) replaced the Jr. high school AYS program; it is now in its 2nd edition. Additional curricula were added as follows: OWL Grades K-1 in 1999, OWL Grades 4-6, OWL Grades 10-12 and OWL for Adults in 2000, and finally, recognizing the particular needs of this age-group, OWL for Young Adults, Ages 18-35 in 2008. Each of the curricula is now in development for a second edition. While there are supplements that bring in materials related to UU and UCC faith dimensions at each age-level, the core curriculum is values-based so that it can be used in a secular setting. The UUA is currently field testing the new OWL 4-6 materials and developing a curriculum specifically for parents and caregivers as resident sexuality educators (www.uua.org/re/new). Unitarian Universalists have also led the charge in the last decade to get accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education into schools and other community settings; this includes the advocacy work of the Religious Institute (www.religiousinstitute.org/) that was founded in 2001, and directed until 2015, by UU minister Rev. Debra W. Haffner.

     FCB switched to the OWL program for 8th graders in 2000, and since at least 2009, it has been held on Sunday afternoons at 4:30 pm. The OWL program for 5th and 6th graders at FCB was added in the spring of 2011 and meets during the 9 am class time. FCB has a paid OWL facilitator, Wendy Conroy, whose passion for sexuality education is a vital resource both in the congregation and out in the community. All families with current 8th graders will be receiving an e-mail from fcbowl@gmail.com about registering for OWL 8th, which begins in early January, and requires a parent orientation in early December. FCB members have first dibs, but must register to secure a spot. Registration is then opened up to community members who are already adding their names to the wait list. FCB charges a fee for OWL, which covers all the costs of the program.

     FCB’s OWL teachers are trained to lead this important program. If you are interested in being an OWL teacher, let CRE know. CRE/OWL covers the cost of training its teachers. Trainings occur regularly at the Walker Center in Auburndale, MA and other New England locations. There is an OWL 7-12 training in late January 2016 and an OWL Adult/Young Adult training in early February 2016; spaces fill early. Please contact Wendy Conroy with questions at fcbowl@gmail.com.

Special activities for families in November:

  • Belmont High School theater performances of “The Laramie Project” on November 5, 6 & 7. This is a powerful play about the people of Laramie, Wyoming in the year following the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man: k12.ma.us/bps/fpa/News/
    Article/1322/The-Laramie-Project
  • Fellowship Circle Suppers on November 7th are a fun way to get to know other members of FCB. Look for sign-up sheets at coffee-hour. There are several hosts who are encouraging families with children to participate.
  • Adult Programs presents the documentary film “Growing Up Trans” on November 19th in the Parish Hall. Refreshments at 6:45 p.m., screening starts at 7 p.m. and is followed by a panel Q&A. The film and discussion is suitable for middle school students and older.
  • Belmont Religious Council’s annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service on November 22 at 7 p.m. in the FCB sanctuary. Bring non-perishable food items for the Belmont Food Pantry. Refreshments follow the service.

Volunteers are needed in CRE

  • CRE is looking for one more UU Visitor-volunteer to play Unitarian minister, Rev. Charles Follen on December 6th. Plus, in the spring, we will have a few Bible People as visitors. If you are interested in any of these, please contact the CRE office.
  • Non-parent volunteers are always welcome; please let CRE office know that you are interested in working with FCB children in the Nursery, the classrooms or for special events.
  • All children must be registered for CRE. If you haven’t already registered your children for CRE, please do so by using the registration link found on the Children’s Religious Education page (uubelmont.org/childrens-re/) which allows you to register children from birth through 12thgrade. You can find more information about the program on the website and peruse Charlotte’s blog.
  • All individuals who work with children in the CRE, youth and music programs at FCB must have a background check. If you are a new volunteer or need to renew your background check (once every three years), you can find links to the “background authorization” form as well as the “volunteer driver” and “teacher code of ethics” forms here org/coriandsori/.

~ Charlotte Lehmann, Acting Director of Children’s Religious Education

Office hours: Mon-Tues-Weds, 10 – 6. E-mail: clehmann@uubelmont.org.

Posted in Charlotte, Children's Religious Education