As we enter into the new Religious Education (RE) season here at UUCM, we are at a precipice where we must
acknowledge the vast promise of the educational landscape ahead of us. Recognition of the past, determined
focus, and intentional listening are all interconnected parts of the equation that will help us establish the foundation of the future of RE at UUCM. One important part of our RE past and future is the status of the Our
Whole Lives (OWL) Program and what that will look like given the requirements and guidelines that must be
adhered to in order to offer the quality OWL programming that UUCM has become known for.
In this pandemic environment of Online/Virtual Classrooms, The OWL Program cannot be offered in the same
manner that we have done so in the past. To answer your many, valid questions about WHAT UUCM CAN
OFFER regarding the OWL Program, I ask you to refer to the following in-depth explanation from Jennifer
Bell, our UUCM Lead OWL Coordinator, RE Committee Member, RE Teacher, and OWL Parent.
A Treatise on The UUCM OWL Program
by Jennifer Bell, UUCM Lead OWL Coordinator
What’s Happening with OWL? Back in March, when we had to suspend all in-person RE classes, all in-person everything, I remember thinking that it would not be possible to live like this for very long. Well, I was wrong. With some heartbreaking exceptions and losses, many of us have mostly been able to adapt. One thing that was not able to adapt to physical distancing was OWL.
Our Whole Lives (OWL) is the comprehensive sexuality education program that UUCM has been offering to our children and youth for over 20 years. Last spring, we were in the midst of two OWL classes, one for 8th graders and one for 4th and 5th graders, when the stay-at-home order was issued. Thanks to resilient and creative RE leaders and teachers, other UUCM RE classes were able to bounce back and offer largely successful remote classes via Zoom, but OWL has very strict parameters that made it difficult to reshape it to present in a remote format. It was frustrating and disheartening for me and the other OWL facilitators, but we couldn’t see how we could offer anything close to an OWL course via Zoom or even in person outside, with masks and physical distancing. The challenges with communication, intimacy, and confidentiality in either of these settings would diminish the program too much. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and United Church of Christ (UCC), who together created the OWL curricula, agreed, but they didn’t abandon us.
UUA and UCC OWL leaders have created an outline for a sexuality education program for 7-9th graders that
can be presented via video conference. It is based on the same principles as OWL and will use some OWL material, but is not the same as OWL, not by a long shot. Nonetheless, it is something that we are willing to try to fulfill the needs of our OWL students and families. We would like to begin this experiment by creating a handful of classes to cover most of the topics that were left unfinished in the 8th grade OWL class last spring. I’m looking forward to this and hope it is a success. The next steps will be to determine how we will support last
year’s 4/5 OWL class and this year’s kindergarteners, 1st graders, and 8th graders, all scheduled to begin OWL
courses in the spring. Whether we develop remote curricula, offer other resources, or wait until we can once
again meet in person to offer the full comprehensive curricula OWL is known for, we will be working to offer
the best sexuality education programming that we can.
Another way we plan to support our UUCM community in positive sexuality education is by offering a new
course developed by the UUA, a group ministry program to help parents and caregivers in their roles as sexuality educators. We are excited to kick this off in October. Details will be coming soon.
We will continue to reach out to our OWL families and support them in various ways, and we welcome your
questions, feedback, and ideas as we move forward. Although OWL facilitator training is on hold until it can be
conducted in person, we need more adults to support this important service. If you are interested in helping,
we welcome you and we can get you involved!