A new online platform for training faith formation teachers was launched Feb. 23 by the diocese’s Faith Formation Office.
Video training is now available in English at learn.dolr.org for everyone who teaches the faith, including Catholic school teachers, directors of religious education, catechists, RCIA coordinators and team members, parish employees, Bible study leaders, campus ministers and youth ministers.
Basic catechist certification requires watching 20 videos and discussing two or three questions with a small group after each video. “Certified catechists” will have completed the course and will receive a certificate for the current and next academic year. In subsequent years, catechists can remain certified if they participate in at least one faith formation activity, such as a Bible study or seminar.
Jeff Hines, diocesan faith formation director, said his office developed the certification program after reflecting on the Directory of Catechesis, which was published by the U.S. bishops in July 2020. In the past, catechist training was left up to each school and parish to decide what program to use.
Hines emphasized developing an online platform for the diocese instead of directing Catholics to other national resources.
“We wanted it to be available online to take advantage of the efficiency, accessibility and convenience that we all learned over the past two years,” Hines said. “In the state of Arkansas, in every parish and school, we need to be teaching as many people as we can; therefore, we want to model that in this formation program. It is people within Arkansas teaching.”
The course includes sections on the Bible, catechism, social doctrines and catechetical method and pedagogy.
A mix of priests, deacons and laity from Arkansas presents the training videos. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor teaches on the New Testament Letters and Revelation.
Other presenters include Brother Ambrose Fryer, OSB, Subiaco; Deacon Jason Pohlmeier of Fayetteville; Deacon Matt Glover, JCL, chancellor for canonical affairs; Sister Kimberly Prohaska, OSB, and Sister Maria DeAngeli, OSB, of Fort Smith; Cackie Upchurch of Fort Smith; Erin Pohlmeier of Fayetteville; and Fathers Ben Riley of Harrison, Cassian Elkins, OSB, of Subiaco, Greg Luyet, JCL, judicial vicar, Jason Tyler of Fayetteville, John Antony of Fort Smith, Juan Guido of Little Rock and William Burmester of Texarkana.
A similar certification program in Spanish will launch later.
Hines introduced the program to Catholic school principals Feb. 23 during a meeting at St. John Center in Little Rock. He will offer a series of Zoom presentations in March for parish catechists.
Superintendent Theresa Hall said all Catholic school teachers must be certified by May 2024.
“If you are teaching in a Catholic school, you are teaching religion, regardless of what subject area you teach,” she said.
Hall and her staff are taking the course to become certified.
“I’ve watched several of the videos so far, and to me they are well done and have good content,” she said. “If we are asking them to do it, we feel we should do it also. We can all learn from it.”
Hines said religion teachers and catechists with theology degrees or years of experience might think the introductory course might not apply to them, but he is hopeful all school and parish teachers will take the course to build communities. Some content about teaching methods might be new to them as well, Hines said.
Those not currently involved in faith formation can log onto the platform, create an account and watch the videos for their enrichment. The certified catechist title is given to those who complete the course as part of a small group.
Ozark Catholic Academy in Tontitown and Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock worked with Hines as pilot project schools. Sara Jones, MSM principal, said the school plans to have its 61 teachers and staff members certified by the end of May.
“The certification program has been super user-friendly,” Jones said. “Not all teachers in our school are Catholic, and learning the beliefs and being able to incorporate those ideas into our everyday practice is hopefully going to draw more people to our faith.”
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