ISKCON Sunday School educators, administrators, and youth leaders from all over North America are set to gather for a Sunday School and Youth Education Conference at ISKCON Baltimore from May 29th to 31st, to develop a common vision and share best practices.
According to the NA Child Protection Office, at least 1,200 children in North America are enrolled in official ISKCON Sunday Schools every week. Most Sunday Schools are taught in the temple during the Sunday Feast lecture, when the children need special engagement; others occur in parents’ homes.
“Given that around 95% of our children are now educated in public schools, that one hour of Sunday school per week is one of the major sources of spiritual education for them,” says Gopika-kanta Dasi, a professional public school teacher who has taught Sunday Schools at ISKCON of New Jersey for the past eight years. “So it’s of huge importance.”
Many temples also have different kinds of youth education programs, from monthly or weekly sangas, to retreats.
While attending the 2018 ISKCON Ministry of Education Conference in Alachua, Florida, Gopi-kanta met with other Sunday School teachers, and realized that they all felt isolated and in need of collaboration.
The group kept in touch via monthly conference calls, and began building personal relationships, getting familiar with one another’s programs, offering support, and brainstorming a common vision and mission for North American Sunday Schools.
“We are holding this conference because we felt like it was time to see if we could grow our family, and reach out to even more Sunday School teachers,” Gopika-kanta says. “We’re all Prabhupada’s family, so we wanted to align in spirit – what are we teaching, and why?”
Organizers of the Sunday School and Youth Education Conference include Gopika and her husband Aksh Sharma, who has taught Sunday Schools and hosted youth sangas with his wife for many years.
There’s also Gopi Gita Schomaker, Regional Secretary of the ISKCON Ministry of Education in North America, who is responsible for 72 Sunday Schools herself and is heading up the effort to create systems that can then be implemented in all regions of North America.
Filling out the core team are experienced Sunday School teachers Vishnupriya Desai from Baltimore, Madhavi Mangu from Round Rock, Texas, Krishnarchana Dasi from Chicago, Nitya Kishori from Detroit, and Krishnaa from Boston.
The conference will start on Friday evening at around 5pm at ISKCON Baltimore with introductions, icebreakers and intention setting. Saturday will then be a full day packed with presentations, workshops and discussions on a number of topics.
The conference will address the many challenges that Sunday School and youth educators face, such as: lack of curriculum/resources; lack of teacher training; parent support and communication; and keeping children and youth engaged and inspired.
Another topic will be entitled “Living the Double Life: Understanding a 2nd Generations’ Experience.”
“Many of our second generation youth have a unique experience, growing up as a Hare Krishna while going to public school,” Gopika says. “They live this double life. So one goal of the conference is to understand what our kids go through. Because if we have clarity on that, it will help illuminate how we can support them in their needs.”
The conference will also present “Head, Hearts and Hands: Active Learning Strategies and Content Development,” wherein conference participants will discuss how to develop content that aligns to the youths’ specific needs.
Finally there will be “Goal Setting: ISKCON Sunday School/Youth Education In Future Years And Beyond.”
“In the last part of the conference, we’ll discuss what we want Sunday School and youth education too look like five or ten years down the road,” says Gopika. “What are our hopes and dreams for our kids?”
Gopika’s own personal dream is that every child leaves Sunday School class feeling a meaningful connection to each other, the philosophy and Krishna. “Rather than just learning content, we want to fulfill their needs so that they value Bhakti as a supportive and useful tool in their life; not just something weird that makes them feel different,” she says.
Her husband Aksh adds: “It’s not just keeping them busy for that one hour. This is an opportunity to intentionally craft experiences for them that are relevant in their Krishna conscious life.”
The registration deadline for the ISKCON Sunday School and Youth Education Conference is April 30th. There are two registration options, one for prasadam and one for prasadam and accommodation.
To register, please click here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/iskcon-sunday-school-and-youth-education-conference-tickets-95033791629?fbclid=IwAR30CBGzrJdMFk6Jm5jq4FrhIg2eme6gCAGAw9gZpr_3PTZYo5MAyK6knDE
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