LOCK HAVEN - Some readers are old enough to remember when the public school day started with prayer and a Bible verse, along with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Today, even a vesper service for graduating seniors can come into question.
Still, throughout Pennsylvania, Christian student groups do exist in public schools. Some of them even thrive.
In Keystone Central, the annual See You at the Pole experience brings students into a circle around their school's flagpole to start one special day during the school year with prayer.
Those students and others are invited to gather after school as well, in faith-building electives offered at the same time as 21st Century After School Program.
It began with Faith Finders at Robb School, lead by Pastor Janis Heiser. Offered this academic year at both Robb and Renovo, Faith Finders is a faith and character development program specifically targeted to elementary students.
Pastor Heiser and Rev. Nancy Goff also offered Faith Builders at Central Mountain Middle School this school year.
Both programs used worship videos, puppets, crafts, PowerPoint presentations, and age-appropriate games to present what Rev. Heiser calls the "life-transforming" message of God in a fun way. Both also used the curriculum "The Power of Your Words" and "Trash to Treasure," focusing on how God wants to create a new heart in each person as His treasure, she reported.
The Bridge at Central Mountain High School continues to meet Tuesdays and will do so until May 24. Now in its second year, it has brought 10 to 15 or more students together at each session to study the Bible, watch DVDs, discuss a variety of faith issues and pray together. This week the group watched two videos featuring motivational speaker Nick Vujicic.
The Bridge offers "an opportunity to connect with God and develop faith," according to Rev. Tom Seaman who, with Rev. Don Grant, leads the sessions. "The students are excited about this opportunity to study and discuss spiritual issues that are not usually covered in the classroom."
All three electives are sponsored by the Southern Clinton County Association of Christian Churches and were sparked, Rev. Seaman said, by discussions among the ministers about the need to develop a stronger faith in the area's young people.
The SCCACC ministerium approached Keystone Central in 2009, he said, and a team of three pastors met with Superintendent of Schools Kelly Hastings and other school administrators to talk about options.
Rev. Seaman can quote chapter and verse from the Pennsylvania Public School Code that allows students to "be excused from school in order to attend classes for religious instruction," up to 36 hours during the school year.
The code stipulates students must have parental permission, and the local after-school faith programs require it too.
The programs meet during the 21st Century program which offers food, an activity period and time for tutoring. The faith sessions take place during the activity period.
Their purpose is to:
r Help students grow in their faith,
r Encourage spiritual formation and moral character development,
r Teach Biblical truths that are relevant to life,
r Make spiritual things interesting, relevant and exciting to students.
Faith Finders, Faith Builders and the Bridge seem to have been successful at fulfilling that purpose, and the ministers involved are already making plans to bring the programs back in the fall.
- By WENDY STIVER