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Bible program for school children in works

The statistics are staggering, and Katie Wakeland hopes to change them.

Every day in America, more than 8,000 teens become sexually active, more than 100 children are arrested for drug abuse, more than 2,000 students drop out of school and 16 youths commit suicide, according to the Children's Defense Fund.

As chairwoman of School Ministries of McDuffie County, Mrs. Wakeland is trying to institute Release Time Bible Education for McDuffie County public school children.

"It's an amazing program," Mrs. Wakeland said recently in a presentation to the Thomson Rotary Club. "It is so vital and necessary in our school system ... We would work with the teachers, giving them a vehicle and a tool to allow students to grow in the love of Christ."

Mrs. Wakeland, who lives in Thomson, said RTBE provides a safe venue where students can ask deep, challenging and sensitive questions without fear of censure. She said the Bible classes prepare the students to become responsible adults and contributing citizens.

School Ministries is a national organization committed to advancing RTBE around the country since the early 1900s, according to their Web site. Mrs. Wakeland said there are many participating schools in Richmond and Columbia counties.

The program is constitutionally permitted because the children are released from school for one hour a week to attend the Bible classes off campus. Participation is voluntary and is privately funded.

Mrs. Wakeland would like to pilot a program at Thomson Elementary School, with the children going across Fluker Street to Holy Cross Episcopal Church for Bible classes. She made a presentation to the school board several months ago with her request, and said she has heard nothing since then.

"The Lord is teaching me patience with this," said Mrs. Wakeland, a mother of two young sons. "I have never had patience with anything else, but I have a peace about RTBE in McDuffie County."

Local school board members discussed the program at their July planning meeting. Superintendent Jim LeBrun said he was concerned that if the elective classes being offered by the school system are not good enough for the few children who would take the Bible class, then why are they using resources to offer the elective in the first place?

"I agree," board chairwoman Georgia Hobbs said during the discussion. "Even if they are only pulled out of P.E., they are missing something."

But Mrs. Wakeland said she thinks the board members are missing the point.

"Every school has an elective period, and Release Time would only be one day a week," she said. "The school board, I think, is worried it will take away from their instructional time. But it will, in fact, help everyone. If those elective classes are not so crowded, then the teachers will have some free time for a planning period, while the students are still being taught something."

Release Time will provide the Bibles and curriculum, membership fees and insurance coverage for the students, as well as utility costs, taxes, repairs and maintenance of the facility they use through private donations, Mrs. Wakeland said. A paid director also would be provided to coordinate daily with the schools to handle schedules and transportation issues, according to the RTBE literature.

While she is waiting, Mrs. Wakeland continues to make presentations to civic clubs and churches to garner volunteers and support for the program.

Web posted on Thursday, August 27, 2009

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