Local schools incorporating Bible-based character education

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Jul. 30—LIMA — LifeWise Academy had its origins in 2018 in Van Wert, Ohio. It was there that "Released Time Religious Instruction" was reinvented.

Seventy years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Zorach v. Clauson determined that the practice of "Released Time Religious Instruction" was constitutional and therefore legal in all states. Justice William O. Douglas wrote for the majority in a 6-3 decision Of Zorach v. Clauson in 1952:

"When the State encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it then follows the best of our traditions, for it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public services to their spiritual needs."

More than half the states in the U.S. now have laws specifically pertaining to Released Time. Specific state policies vary. For example, Ohio's Released Time law (ORC 3313.6022), was passed in the Ohio legislature and signed into law by Governor John Kasich in 2014 allowing public school students to receive elective religious instruction during the school day, under the certain conditions including: it's off school property, privately funded, and parent permitted.

Though legal for decades, Released Time has remained almost completely ignored by the Christian church. LifeWise Academy is changing that by providing a model that could be implemented by any community nationwide. For three years, LifeWise has been building and refining that model to capitalize on this opportunity.

In 2019 there were five schools involved with LifeWise Academy. In 2020, academies were added in Payne, Grover Hill and Pandora. A goal was set to establish 25 academies by 2025. However, in 2021 there were 36 LifeWise Academies. LifeWise Academies are in the planning stages at Ottawa, Shawnee, Allen East, Spencerville and Bath.

LifeWise Academy utilizes the basic structure and focus of the The Gospel Project, a curriculum originally produced for Sunday school and small group applications which has been licensed by LifeWise and reformatted to suit the needs of a Released Time Religious Instruction program. The LifeWise curriculum is designed to take students through the entire Bible, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation, over the course of five years. Each lesson reviews a Bible passage as well as a "Living LifeWise" character trait. There are twenty-five character traits taught including responsibility, respect, gratitude, and obedience. The order of lessons and activities are flexible and can be modified as the teacher finds necessary.

LifeWise does not interfere with classes during the school day. They do not interfere with children's mandatory courses or extracurricular activities. The class schedule is set by school personnel in consultation with LifeWise representatives. Usually, LifeWise classes are scheduled as part of the "specials" rotation or for times when other elective courses are offered.

A local steering committee first coordinates program details with school officials and then identifies a program director and board to lead the program long-term. The director and board recruit and hire qualified teachers with resources and coaching from the LifeWise Support Center. A number of volunteers are enlisted as well to assist with transporting students and helping in the classroom. Students either walk under the supervision of volunteer chaperones or are driven by bus or van to the off-site LifeWise classroom. The cost varies from program to program based on paid staff, facility, transportation, curriculum/membership fees, supplies and other miscellaneous costs. Our numbers indicate a program can operate within the cost range of $100-$300 per student per year depending mainly on local decisions regarding paid staff, facility and transportation. The LifeWise Support Center provides proven strategies, training and materials to local LifeWise leaders to effectively raise the necessary funds so that there is no cost to schools or participating families.