By Stacey Carmany
Mt. Hope Elementary students will have the option to attend off-site bible classes this school year as part of a released time education program being piloted at the school.
In July, the East Holmes Board of Education entered into an agreement with Nehemiah Released Time Bible Education to pilot an optional weekly bible study program at the school during the 2018-2019 school year.
Cindy Rainsberger is the co-founder, president, and administrator for the Nehemiah Released Time Bible Education program. She explained that the goal of the non-denominational program is to help children develop their moral character.
“What we’re doing is trying to get some really good Christian moral values, biblical values, and help them to be members of the church and members of the community and serve the community in a positive way,” she shared.
Released Time Bible Education (RTBE) programs are the only means by which Christian education is legally permitted at public schools during the school day. Parental permission is required in order for students to participate, and programs must be administered off of school property.
“It’s actually called released time because people have to release their children to leave the school building to come to the Bible class,” Rainsberger explained. “It’s totally voluntary. Parents don’t have to have their children attend.”
The Nehemiah program will initially be offered for one period per week at the Homestead Furniture Community Center, and volunteers will walk with participating students to the center and back to the school. Students choosing not to participate in the program will remain in the classroom under the supervision of their teacher.
For the first year, the program will be offered only at Mt. Hope, however, organizers are hoping to eventually expand the program to additional buildings and school districts. “The big vision is to be in all the school buildings here in the East Holmes school district. That’s our immediate vision,” Rainsberger shared. “The big goal is to be in as many school districts as God allows us.”
Organizers are working to furnish a mobile unit that will eliminate the need for an offsite facility from which to administer the program. “We purchased a bookmobile, and that’s in the process of being changed into a bible-mobile,” Rainsberger explained. “That will be a mobile classroom so we would drive it to the different schools and get permission from the local landowners right beside the school so we could park it off the school grounds.”
Permanent structures could also be built near each building if the district decides to continue with the program. “Eventually, if they want us to, we can put a little cabin on adjacent land,” said Benita Miller, co-founder and treasurer for Nehemiah RTBE.
Rainsberger noted that the same program could also be offered at the high school level, with participating students earning up to two credits toward graduation. “That was a law that was passed in 2014 for Ohio,” she explained. “We’re only the second state in the United States that allows for that.”
The program is similar to but separate from a similar program offered in the neighboring Garaway school district, according to Rainsberger. “It’s a separate entity but we’re doing the same kind of thing,” she said.
For now, the program is being offered on a trial basis at Mt. Hope only, according to Superintendent Erik Beun. “We kind of want to see how it works, but we are definitely looking forward to that partnership and feel like it’s a good fit for us and for our students,” he shared.
Miller noted that organizers met recently with some of the school’s Amish families to discuss the program and have gotten back 26 permission slips. “We’ve been pleasantly amazed,” she said.
Nehemiah Released Time Bible Education is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and is independent of any school district. The program receives no federal, state or local funding and relies solely on donations from churches, businesses and individuals. Donations can be mailed to PO Box 711, Sugarcreek, OH 44681. Checks should be made out to Nehemiah RTBE.
For more info at the program, call 330-852-3404 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in the August 1, 2018 edition of The Budget. For more news, pick up the latest edition at an area retailer. Better yet, subscribe and the news will be delivered to your mailbox each week. For more info, call 330-852-4634.