Interfaith program for middle-schoolers moves online this year

September 8, 2020

 

As the new school year begins with several drastic changes and some confusion, change is also knocking on the door of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit’s Religious Diversity Journeys program. 

The six-month program starting in November is designed to bridge the gap between different faith groups for seventh-graders inMacomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

Since the 2002-2003 school year, thousands of middle school students have had the opportunity to learn about different religions and cultures in a hands-on program that allows students the opportunity to visit different houses of worship.

Prior to the COVID-19 school closures in March, 700 students from 50 public, private and parochial schools participated in the program, which supports the state’s guidelines for its seventh-grade world religions curriculum. Students met with clergy members from Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Sikh faiths to discuss each religion’s beliefs, customs, holidays and even ceremonial objects.

Under current circumstances, the Religious Diversity Journeys program is moving to a remote program for the 2020-2021 school year, almost entirely designed for asynchronous learning. All material will be available to students and teachers on a password-protected page through the InterFaith Leadership Council’s website on a 24/7 basis.

“Are students getting the full experience? No. Are they getting something better than zero, absolutely,” says program Director Wendy Miller Gamer.

Although students won’t have the same experience, there are positives that come with moving the program online.

“The in-person program is fenced in a bit due to the size of the program,” she says. “We knew we could have more than 700 students in the program, barring factors of space and money. Even feeding kids lunch was becoming difficult.”

Making the switch to online education could open the doors to more students and school participants. The numbers are not in just yet, but Miller Gamer thinks the program could reach upwards of a few thousand students this way.

The InterFaith Leadership Council already has some school districts committed to offering the program to their entire seventh grade populations, reaching hundreds more students.

“We will go back to having in-person programs when it’s safe, no question,” she says. “But we are also thinking that we can maintain this online program and offer to all seventh-graders in school.” 

Moving online opens the doors to a wider audience at home with mom and dad sitting in along with the student. With that in mind, InterFaith Leadership Council is working with Detroit Public Television to include material for both elementary-school students and adults, keeping a multigenerational audience in mind. 

“Now that the program is at home on the living room TV, we are looking to make this a recourse for families,” Miller Gamer says.

The bulk of the content will be prerecorded material with one or two live questions and answer sessions with clergy members of each religion.

“The central hallmark is to make sure kids get diversity literacy,” Miller Gamer says. “That they are introduced to different faiths and communities that surround them in their neighborhoods, they see we have more in common than (we have) differences, and that differences enrich just as similarities enrich.”

For more information about the InterFaith Leadership Council visit, detroitinterfaithcouncil.com.

 

Source: Interfaith program for middle-schoolers moves online this year - The Oakland Press