Shenandoah County Weekly Religious Education is returning to public elementary schools Monday with weekly classes throughout the school year.
The program, according to its website, allows "public schools, with parental or guardian written permission, to release students to go to off-campus facilities for Biblical instruction."
The website describes the program as an "inter-denominational group of churches, business leaders, and community members in Shenandoah County who are coming together to provide faith-based education in our public school." The website adds that the primary goal of the 45-minute weekly classes, which are required to be held off campus, is "to provide elementary age children with services the public schools cannot provide; Bible-based spiritual guidance which is necessary for the development of the whole child."
The program is fully funded by donations and no tax money is used, according to the website.
WRE Vice President Shawn Graber explained Bible study is paramount in these classes. He added that the program also attempts to teach interpersonal skills, how to work with adversity, and how to avoid difficulties in life.
"You have an opportunity to mold a child when they are in elementary school, to give them the keys or the opportunities to learn how to serve God and serve people,” Graber said. “If you can build those types of qualities and characters in a child at a young age, it can save that individual from a life of hardship.”
The school division reintroduced the program last year for the first time in 32 years, and Woodstock Antioch Church Pastor George Bowers said it was successful.
"It was fantastic," he said.
Last year, the program ran for four weeks and was only open to fourth graders at W.W. Robinson, Sandy Hook, and Honey Run elementary schools. This year, the program is expanding and also being offered to second graders at the county's three elementary schools.
When the program was launched last semester, Bowers said a small number of students initially participated because there was not much time "to get the word out." It began with around 12 students, which grew to 21 by the year's end.
“We doubled it in about four weeks just from the students telling their friends, enjoying themselves, and being a part of it,” Graber said.
Graber was unable to provide an estimate on how many students will participate this year but expressed optimism that the number of participants will grow throughout the year.
“I suspect we’ll get started with a couple handfuls at each school, and we’ll likely double between now and Christmas if it is anything similar to what happened in the spring,” Graber said.
This year's schedule and locations are:
W.W. Robinson Elementary School
Both fourth and second graders begin meeting Monday at the Church of the Nazarene in Woodstock.
- Fourth graders meet Monday from 10:30-11:10 a.m.
- Second graders meet Monday from 11:15-11:55 a.m.
Sandy Hook Elementary School
Fourth graders will begin meeting Monday and second graders will begin meeting Tuesday at the Strasburg Presbyterian Church.
- Fourth graders meet Monday from 8:15-9 a.m.
- Second graders meet Tuesday from 1:55-2:40 p.m.
Honey Run Elementary School
Fourth graders begin meeting Monday and second graders begin meeting Wednesday in the Yellow Barn at the Shenandoah Caverns.
- Fourth graders will meet Monday from 1:15-2 p.m.
- Second graders will meet Wednesday from 1:15-2 p.m.
Bowers said WRE will have two instructors and an aide to start off the school year. Each class session will have one instructor and aide present. “As needs increase, we anticipate going forward at some point hiring additional personnel,” he said.
So far, Graber said the program has been very well received by parents and children who have participated. During the short time it was available last year, he said many students commented about how much it meant to them to participate.
“There were a couple of students that really opened up about personal things,” Graber said. “I think it speaks volumes for the program that was only in for four weeks.”
Bowers expressed excitement for the upcoming year and hopes the program will have a long-term impact on participants.
“We’re praying and believing that it’s going to have an impact regarding students as far as their self-esteem, knowing who they are, and who God has created them to be,” Bowers said.
There will be open registration for the program throughout the school year.
For more information, visit https://www.weekdayreligiouseducation.com/.