ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Lifewise Academy, an optional, Bible-based educational program, could be implemented at St. Clairsville Elementary School in the coming school year.
The program was discussed during Wednesday’s St. Clairsville-Richland City School District Board of Education meeting. Associate Pastor Bill Wendell of Thoburn United Methodist Church met with the board to talk about the program that he plans to bring to the elementary school. Wendell said two of his three children are students at the elementary school and his wife, Brittany, is an intervention specialist there.
“In the 1950s, the Supreme Court ruled that children could be released (from school) for religious instruction, provided that it is off school property, it’s privately funded and, of course, with parental permission. Interestingly, St. Clairsville actually adopted their very own Release Time Religious Instruction Policy in 2015,” he said, adding that Lifewise is a program that puts that policy into action.
Wendell said he is excited that the program may go into effect in the coming school year. He said he met with elementary Principal Amber Toriseva at the beginning of the last school year to discuss students’ needs.
“One of the things she (Toriseva) mentioned was the difficulty the children were having emotionally and with mental health issues. This is a battle for our kids, and it’s scary to think of all the mental health issues that are going on in our schools. And I know all you here in St. Clairsville are doing such a great job in terms of character education, and I think that Lifewise is an organization that wants to come alongside the school and reinforce this character education through a Bible-based character education option,” he said.
So far, 149 signatures from those in the community who favor implementing the program have been obtained.
According to Lifewise, its mission is “to positively impact students, schools and communities by providing a Bible-based, character-focused Released Time Religious Instruction program.” The program in St. Clairsville would be geared toward one grade to begin with and held for the equivalent of one period during the school day, once per week at an off-site location and would incorporate academic and religious teachings. Participation would be solely on a volunteer basis with consent from each student’s parent or guardian.
“We hope to start with the second grade and, in terms of length of time, we’re thinking about 45 minutes or so,” Wendell said of the programming.
Wendell said organizers are currently looking at a couple of sites near the school where they could hold the program – the J.B. Martin Recreation Center or Thoburn.
“Those are our two best sites but I think in the future, if we’re able to, what we’d really like to do is purchase our own property – which has been done by other Lifewise organizations – so that the kids can actually walk to the program,” he said.
In response to a question from board member Michael Fador regarding transportation, Wendell said Lifewise provides background checks and training for all drivers who will transport students to the course program. He said the organization would purchase, or rent, buses that will be responsible for getting the kids to and from the program.