The Catholic Community of the United States is a unique series of two books that serve as supplements for history and religion for grades six through eight. Their subtitles are Highlights from the Colonial Period through the Early Republic and Highlights from an Immigrant Church to an American Church. A third book that will cover the modern era should be forthcoming soon. Author Kimberly Lytle has also written a fourth book in a similar format, The Catholic Community of Pennsylvania: Past and Present. Since it is likely to be of most interest only to those living in or near Pennsylvania, I do not include it in this review.
This series provides a strong Catholic component for U.S. History that supplements your core history curriculum. Each book should take one year to complete, accomplishing one lesson per week. Since most schools and families spend only one year in grades six through eight on U.S. History, you are unlikely to have time to complete both books in the same year as you complete your core curriculum, much less three books when the third book becomes available. Lessons from the Catholic Community books will not tie in directly with topics and the timeline in your U.S. History curriculum, so it seems most practical to use these courses without trying to correlate them to your other history studies. However, you can rearrange the order of the lessons to some extent if you want to try for a stronger correlation with your history studies.
Lessons address topics of particular interest to Catholics and are grouped under headings such as Missionaries, Colonies and Catholics, Missions, Saints, Dioceses, and Religious Orders of Women. Other topics such as French and Indian War, The Carroll Family, Nativists, Plenary Councils of Baltimore, and Civil War highlight the role of Catholics on the national stage as well as key issues addressed at the Plenary Councils.
Because most lessons include some sort of group interaction, the lessons are not practical for a parent teaching a single child. Direct instruction and interaction are required for the lessons. Parents or teachers will need to do some advance preparation as well.
Each course consists of a teacher manual and a student packet. Student packets come as loose-leaf packets of black-and-white pages and may be reproduced for class groups up to 25 students.
Lessons are taught from each spiral-bound teacher manual. For each lesson, the teacher manual lists the lesson objective, correlations with standards, an introduction to the lesson, detail for lesson presentation, an "assessment" activity (evaluation of whatever might be turned in or evaluated for that lesson), and a follow-up activity. Standards correlations are to Common Core State Standards for “Literacy in Social Studies/History” under Language Arts. There are also correlations to other standards for writing, speaking, and listening, as well as to some for math since lessons occasionally include math or language arts activities.
Lessons will take from 15 to 50 minutes of interaction. While information is included, it is often presented creatively such as in the form of an obituary, newspaper articles, or graphic organizers. Students will almost always interact with the information in some way, looking for key ideas, arguments, comparative information, etc.
Some lessons include puzzles and games. There are often activities that students might complete on their own, activities such as drawing a three-box comic strip depicting a missionary dispute (page 19 of the first book), drawing the student’s diocesan coat of arms and creating a graphic explaining the symbols (page 21 of the second book), and writing compositions or letters. Obviously, some assignments will take more time than others. You can choose whether or not to use the additional follow-up activity for each lesson. These generally involve research, writing, or hands-on projects. The variety of activities helps to address the needs of those with different learning styles, and the interaction will often be fun for students and teachers alike.
Lessons teach about heroes of the Catholic faith and challenge students to apply Catholic teaching and morality in various situations. Some lessons touch on political issues such as religious liberty, immigration, and government funding of Catholic schools, but when issues remain controversial today, they are presented in an open-ended fashion rather than promoting particular political actions. The series has obtained official approval with both the Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.
Finding affordable history resources that include a Catholic perspective can be challenging, so these Catholic Community history books should prove very useful, making it possible to use one of the many non-Catholic U.S. History resources. Since they are supplemental, and lessons need not be used in order, you can adapt your schedule to use them whenever works best for you.