Both Kay Westburg and Grayce Mitchell came to teaching Sunday school class in much the way you might expect; their own children were moving through the Bethany program and they answered a call for children’s ministry.
After years of teaching various ages, both women found themselves with a 4th/5th grade girl’s class. And though their own children eventually aged out of the class, both teachers have remained deeply committed to this age group: Mitchell has been leader of this class for eight years, and Westberg, for the past two.
For both leaders, this age - just before the girls enter middle school - is a crucial time in young lives. It is at this juncture that these children forge a powerful sense of belonging, and create stronger relationships both to Jesus and to each other. At this point in their lives, the girls themselves respond enthusiastically to the single gender classroom. Fourth grader Samara Barwell says that she enjoys the “girls only” time, stating (with a roll of her eyes) that “boys are all boring.” Classmate Audrey McFarland agrees: “Boys goof off too much. I can’t concentrate.”
According to Mitchell , these girls are also an interesting group because they are beginning to understand and process more complex concepts of faith. Discussion can be very rich and insightful. Yet these relationships also develop in many directions; over a two year course, the adult class leaders also get to see the girls grow and change physically and spiritually. Westburg, for instance, finds it particularly difficult to contemplate leaving a group of girls before they have “launched into middle school.”
Remarkably, this Sunday school team does not use a curriculum out of a box; rather, Westburg and Mitchell meet over the summer to decide upon a focus and plan a course of study for the coming year. The class has studied women in the Bible, modern female Christian heroes, and the attributes of God.
Not surprisingly perhaps, the lesson’s focus often lends itself to girl interests (journaling) and helps shed perspective on girl issues (cliques, how to be a person God wants them to be when friends may be urging them to do otherwise, self-respect). Every Sunday, girls also earn beads (each worth 5¢) by praying, reading the Bible outside of class or memorizing verses. At the end of the year the girls page through alternative catalogues to spend their bead money.
Fellowship is not just on Sundays only. Many of the girls in the group do not attend the same elementary school during the rest of the week, and thus do not otherwise know one another outside of church. To aid in relationship-building, about six years ago Mitchell instituted a program called “Fun Fridays”.
Fun Fridays, a once-monthly outing, allows girls to gather for an evening in each others homes. Outings often include a shared meal, an activity such as swimming, trampoline jumping or crafting, and a safe place to hang out and be themselves. Fun Friday also functions as an outreach tool (girls can invite friends to the evenings) and an opportunity for the girls to give back to others; over the course of years, many evenings have involved a service component.
It’s been amazing to see how many families are eager to be the hosts and planners of the events. Fifth-grader Suzanne Konswa remarks that Fun Fridays are particularly special “because I get to see what other kids think is fun.” Coming full circle, Rebecca Carlson, who herself went through the 4/5 Sunday school class, now helps out at every Fun Friday outing.