Faith formation students at Immaculate Conception parish in Glenville are receiving a new form of religious education. For the second year, the parish is exclusively using a "mini-session" style of catechesis for seventh- to 10th-graders.

The new format, first launched in 2009, consists of month-long courses on specific faith-related topics. Every year, students can pick two of the seven sessions offered for their grade level, allowing busy families to choose a time that works best for them -- and giving the students a choice of subject matter.

"It's a pretty popular program. Parents, especially, seem to like it," said Rev. Jerome Gingras, pastor, noting how difficult it is to find a schedule for faith formation that works for today's busy teens.

Before adopting the mini-session model, Immaculate Conception offered more traditional biweekly faith formation courses. Leaders said it was hard to keep students' attendance steady, so families were given a choice to try the new model or to stay in the old program.

At first, many students -- particularly those in the upper grades -- opted for the biweekly course because it was familiar to them, said Christine Goss, pastoral associate for youth ministries.

But, "as more and more families were choosing the mini-course model, we started phasing out the biweekly model," said Ms. Goss.

The mini-session classes meet one night a week for 90 minutes. Courses are offered periodically throughout the year on Monday, Wednesday or Sunday evenings. Topics range from the Lord's Prayer to Christian morality.

"They're so concentrated on one subject, they're really getting it," said catechist Maria Yorkshire.

Sam Nally, a 15-year-old faith formation student, told The Evangelist that the "normal" classes he took when he was younger "were good, but they weren't fun. It was the same kind of thing every week. [The mini-sessions] are a lot more involved, so I can learn a lot more about our faith."

The mini-sessions are also good for catechists, who can lead courses on subjects they're knowledgeable and passionate about: "They all are teaching the topics they are the most interested in teaching," said Ms. Goss. "We create mini-courses around people's strengths."

Course topics for the year are chosen from students' requests, teacher's interests, past courses and some "pre-existing mini-courses from known Catholic publishers," said Ms. Goss. If a course works out well, it is generally taught again in the fall, giving new courses time to be fleshed out for the spring session.

One of the mini-sessions Ms. Yorkshire teaches is on the Ten Commandments. At the beginning of the four weeks, her students aren't able to name all 10 in order. By the end, Ms. Yorkshire said that most of the class can rattle them off.

"I get really proud about that," said Ms. Yorkshire, who has taught using both the traditional model and the mini-session model. She prefers the new faith formation format, which encourages discussion, but also involves games and other activities to engage the students.

Sam recalled one course he took in which students would make weekly crafts to donate to families in need: "We made Christmas wreaths and gave them to a woman whose husband had passed away in Iraq."

"You want to get as much information to them as you can," Ms. Yorkshire told the Evangelist. "I try to mix activities and a little bit of fun, too."