GARRETT, Ind. (WANE) — Religious education during school hours is a movement that started in Gary, Indiana in 1914 at the request of a superintendent.
According to McCollum vs Board of Education (1948), “From such a beginning ‘released time’ has attained substantial proportions. In 1914-15, under the Gary program, 619 pupils left the public schools for the church schools during one period a week.”
Now the opportunity for students to receive Bible education during school hours is rising again in the Hoosier state.
“You hear public school and Jesus, and it can be very polarizing and divisive, and my prayer is that we don’t overcomplicate it,” said Ellie Chamberlin, LifeWise Garret program director. “I think this is one of the biggest opportunities we have as a community to walk alongside our children.”
LifeWise Academy started bussing 3rd and 4th-grade students from the Garrett-Keyser-Butler School District to an offsite location for Bible education on Tuesday.
They run two classes, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon that WANE 15 had the opportunity to sit in on.
A view inside the classroom where a Bible sits for each student.
The door leading into the LifeWise building in downtown Garrett
“You want me to teach character curriculum to children? That’s a thing?” recounted LifeWise Garrett teacher Hannah Gilliland, thinking about when she found out about the opportunity to teach.
Gilliland taught in the district at the high school level for a number of years before stepping back due to what she said was a call from God.
But one teaching opportunity led to another, and Chamberlin said that the program could not have asked for a better teacher.
And for her part, Gilliland has big hopes for the program.
“My one hope is that through this program, I want to help make Jesus famous, I want to help make Jesus famous in this community, I want to help make Jesus famous in the heart of each student who comes through,” Gilliland said.
Despite initially taking a step back from teaching, she said the first day of school magic was back as she saw students race into the classroom from the bus, and she even had nerves the night before.
More than just the teachers and LifeWise Staff that have driven the effort, Chamberlin credited the community as coming together to make the effort possible.
“This has truly been a collaborative effort from parents, businesses, churches, and community members who care immensely about investing in our Garrett children,” said Chamberlin. “While we have many churches represented on our board, among our volunteers, and our donors, there are three primary local churches that have driven this effort… First Church of Christ, Church at Garrett, and County Line Garrett.”
Chamberlin told WANE 15 that she was probably missing some of the help the program gets from the churches, but that between the building provided by First Church of Christ (with minimal utility payments), transportation shuttles provided by First Church of Christ and Church at Garrett, multiple members of County Line Garrett playing very significant roles on the leadership board- and all three congregations supporting financially- the program is held up by the Christian community in Garret.
LifeWise gives a solution to those like Chamberlin who want Bible-centered education for kids, chiefly her own as a mother.
“I think we as adults have a responsibility to shine light and life into these children’s lives,” Chamberlin said.
But the scope of their goal far outreaches Garrett.
The program operates in a number of states and says that their success in some of those places is huge, citing a 95% participation rate among public elementary school students next door in Van Wert, Ohio.
You can learn more about the LifeWise program or find a school near you that participates on their website.