When Lisa Zabaglo, a Chaminade High School religion teacher in West Hills, first started using Sophia Institute materials in her classroom several years ago, she noticed an immediate reaction from her students. 

“The lessons have been very effective in engaging the students,” said Zabaglo, who takes advantage of classical art lessons learned from Sophia Institute workshops she has attended over the past five years. 

“I have begun to incorporate classical art lessons into my lectures and PowerPoints. For example, when introducing the Holy Trinity, I use Rublev’s painting of the Holy Trinity. I start by asking what they see, and grow those answers into ‘Who is who in the painting?’ ”

By taking advantage of Sophia Institute classical art lessons, Zabaglo is able to broaden her students’ horizon and fully teach what Rublev was seeing. 

Zabaglo is one of the 913 teachers in Los Angeles archdiocesan schools who have been trained by the Sophia Institute for Teacher workshops since the Institute was first introduced to Catholic schools in 2014. 

Los Angeles was the first archdiocese in the nation to begin using this innovative program, which is now used in 40 dioceses nationwide. This year’s summer sessions just finished and educators were thrilled. 

Ninety-six percent of participating teachers said the program inspired them to pray more personally, and 95 percent said they will pray more with their students.
“A Sophia Institute workshop provides an opportune moment before the school year begins to take time out for ourselves as students of Christ,” said Rosemary Circo, a middle school religion teacher at San Bruno Catholic School in Whittier.

The five daylong workshops in Los Angeles were held at a variety of locations, including Chaminade High School, Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes and Sacred Heart Retreat Center, St. Joseph Campus in Alhambra. 

The programs are popular due in part to their small size. The Sophia Institute intends to keep them personal and interactive with catered breakfasts and lunches. This summer alone, nearly 235 educators gained valuable teaching methods by attending one of these professional development workshops. 

“Each of our workshops consist of a mixture of hands-on and interactive pedagogical (method of teaching) sessions and content-based talks by a respected theological or catechetical scholar. I run all of the pedagogical sessions, which involve modeling activities that are part of the lessons in a teacher’s guide that all the teachers who attend receive,” said Jose Gonzalez, senior director of professional development at Sophia Institute. 

This summer the workshops centered on prayer. In the past, some topics included the Beatitudes, sacraments, mercy and salvation history. The Sophia Institute provided attendees with classroom-ready materials focused on prayer to use in the classroom this fall.
“We always provide the teachers with teacher written and teacher tested classroom-ready lessons on a particular topic,” said Gonzalez.

Circo, who has attended Sophia Institute workshops for the past five years, went to the “Prayer: a Conversation with God” session at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center this summer. She shared with Angelus News what she learned. 

“This summer we experienced more about the process of bringing Lectio Divina to our classrooms. I am excited to share this deep spirituality with my new middle-schoolers, and when practiced as a process more than a task, I believe it can make a profound difference in their prayer life,” she said.

Circo is a firm believer in the Sophia Institute and its workshops and lesson plans and is one of the first religion teachers in the Los Angeles Archdiocese to use Sophia Institute’s “Spirit of Truth” curriculum. Unlike conventional textbooks, “Spirit of Truth” gives teachers a full year of varied lesson plans. 

“ ‘Spirit of Truth’ curriculum does not give students a heavy dose of text. Every teacher has a guide as well as the students. It is designed for a veteran teacher to adopt as they choose, and a novice teacher could potentially use it as a script for their lesson,” said Gonzalez.

More and more schools have begun to adopt this curriculum, including Holy Innocents in Long Beach, St. Andrew’s in Pasadena and St. Frances Cabrini in Los Angeles. 

“The curriculum is catching on in other states as well. There are several dioceses and parishes that are using it too,” Gonzalez said. 

Educators and families alike can find more information about upcoming workshops, engaging lesson plans, curriculum exchange, sketchpad tips, courses, webinars, “Spirit of Truth” K-8 textbooks and family catechesis at www.sophiainstituteforteachers.org

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