As a boy, John Marshall remembers his favorite Sunday school teacher reading Bible stories to the class—and then leading students to uncover their literary themes using plot and Venn diagrams.
“She was an English teacher, and she’d ask us, ‘What is the metaphorical meaning behind Jonah and the whale?’ ‘When were you in the belly of a whale?’ ‘Who are the Delilahs today?’” said Marshall, now the chief equity officer for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), in Louisville, Kentucky.
Marshall believes that approach helped him and his friends become better students and apply the Bible stories to everyday life.
Now he’s using it to change how churches do Vacation Bible School (VBS) by training teachers how to integrate Common Core standards into their Bible lessons.
Marshall’s efforts are part of the “15K Degrees Initiative,” a partnership of Louisville schools, churches, and other local groups aimed at helping more African-Americans in that city earn college degrees. Only 14 percent currently have degrees, according to organizers, compared to about 20 percent of African Americans nationwide.
One of Marshall’s main challenges is combatting the “summer slide.” Students from minority and low-income backgrounds have a greater risk of learning loss during the summer than their wealthier classmates. Researchers say it’s one of the biggest factors driving the achievement gap between the two groups.
Weaving Common Core strategies into VBS is one potential intervention.
This year, 25 VBS and Sunday school leaders from about 20 churches—mostly African American—were trained by JCPS officials at the city’s Urban League at the beginning of June.
During the training, facilitators read a passage about Jesus’ disciples and then asked participants to write a description of them in their own words. Among other suggestions: doing addition or multiplication exercises to calculate the number of animals entering Noah’s ark.
Temple of Faith VBS teacher Nicole Joyner tried this approach with her 8- to 10-year-olds on Sunday mornings. She recently taught a lesson about Jesus’ baptism and subsequent temptation in the desert. She divided the students into small groups, where they discussed the passage, summarized the story, and then presented it back to the class.
She wants to incorporate more writing into her lessons in the future.
Her one criticism: the initial training came too late in the year.
“VBS groups need more time to prepare the lessons [in order] to use those standards effectively so it doesn’t feel like school,” Joyner said. “It takes time—it’s almost like rewriting the whole lesson plan. You have to decide which core standards will work in your lesson.”
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SOURCE: Christianity Today