By MIKE ZINN     7/13/2023

At Mater Dei High School, religious studies is an integral part of the student experience.

Seniors have a choice of elective courses in religious studies during their final year. One of these electives is the Christian Lifestyles course, which is taught by Mrs. Katie Bystedt and Mr. Vince Prietto.

One key component of the Christian Lifestyles course is an assignment titled “The Dating Project.” It was created by Professor Kerry Cronin of Boston College and adapted for Mater Dei by Bystedt and Prietto. The basis for this assignment is to help combat the growing trend of technology, “hook-up culture” as well as drug and alcohol use on college campuses. As outlined in a parental permission letter sent to all parents and guardians of students in this class, Prietto lists the objective of this assignment as a “means for students to practice cultivating the emotional intimacy for developing healthy relationships.” It is noted that if a parent/guardian, or student is uncomfortable with this assignment, they will be given an alternative writing assignment. The student will not be penalized in any way.

The Dating Project starts with a “Level One” date. There are very specific guidelines for this date, which is meant to be casual. The purpose is to spend intentional time with someone that the student may admire. This is a platonic date! The date requires students to choose an acquaintance with whom they have never had one-on-one time with.

Some additional guidelines are:
■ Ask in person. No extravagant invitations.
■ Arrange the date within three days of asking.
■ No phone use during the date (this includes selfies, photos, texting). No documentation of the date on social media.
■ The date is intended for a maximum time of 45-90 minutes. Less is more! The date must be during daylight hours and in a public place.
■ The person initiating the date pays. The total cost must not exceed $10. Students are encouraged to explore free date options in Orange County on the internet.

After the completion of the date, students are asked to write a 2-page reflection which includes the various thoughts and feelings they experienced, prior to, during and after the date. Such reflections might include: “How did you feel when asking the person out for a date?” or “What was it like to stay off social media?”

The Dating Project assignment could be daunting for even the most mature and savvy high school students. Some students will totally embrace the experience while others may approach the process with dread!

Senior Sade Calvero expressed what she learned from the project.

“From my experience, the Dating Project taught me that going on a date does not have to be romantic or intimate and it is simply getting to know someone new.”

Senior Jared McDuffie added: “Through my experience, I have come to learn that by bringing back the normalization of casual dates, people my age will be more likely to create healthy relationships.”

Prietto said he believes the benefits of Mater Dei senior students taking the Christian Lifestyles course and participating in The Dating Project assignment are many.

“A monk I know says good religion helps us connect with S.O.N.G (self, others, nature and God),” he said. “And I believe religion classes are opportunities for students to strengthen those connections and grow in their awareness of a response to God’s love.”