Program brings world religions to sixth-graders
Westborough – During the Great Religions program at Mill Pond School, sixthgrader Pranit Lahoty, 11, learned why Sikhs wear turbans. Ashley Solares, 12, was fascinated to learn that Hindus worship many gods. For Kevin Bock, 12, it was a chance to learn about his classmates.
"This is probably the only opportunity in the lives of these kids to see all of [these religions] together," Anu Deshpandi said.
She was one of 14 adults who spent March 5 talking to sixth-graders about their religions.
The program is funded by a grant from the Westborough Education Foundation and co-sponsored by the Westborough Interfaith Clergy. Teachers Shannon Barca and Chris Rogers organized the daylong program that included small-group sessions with the representatives of each of nine religions, as well as a panel discussion that brought the students and the representatives together for questions.
"The students were just really open and interested, really reflective," said Katie Green, a Quaker. "It was a real joy. I think it's especially delightful to see a public school opening up to it."
Barca noted that the program fills an academic need, since students taking the MCAS face questions about world religions.
"That was the impetus that got us to put this program together," she said.
Barca credited retired teacher Paul Chamberlain for initiating the project and overseeing it for several years.
This year, the program participants represented nine religions, including Baha'i, Buddhism, Hindu, Judaism, Muslim, Quaker (Society of Friends), Roman Catholicism, Sikhism and Unitarian Universalism to nearly 300 sixth-graders.
"It was a really nice opportunity to learn about other cultures and learn to tolerate them," Lahoty said. "It was an awesome opportunity."
Like Lahoty, Bock was interested in the Sikh religion because of a classmate.
"I knew Deep [classmate Deepinder Singh] before but I never knew anything about [the Sikh religion]," he said. "The entire thing was really informational and helpful."
Solares enjoyed hearing from the individual speakers.
"It was really interesting to learn about all the diff erent religions from people who really knew about them," she said.
Rev. Cynthia Prado of the Westborough Unitarian Universalist Church and chair of the Interfaith Clergy, said the program's diversity is important.
"The diversity is huge that we tried to cover," she said. "We want to bring in as rich a diversity as possible."
She noted that from year to year, the program may include diff erent religions.
Lahoty appreciated the wide diversity of religions, and paraphrased Mohandus Ghandi.
"It's like a duty to study all the religions," he said, "so you can understand [them]."
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