School’s Out—For Bible Lessons

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Target. Decide which school will be your focus and what grade(s).
If you’re targeting a specific grade, find out how many students
are in that grade. You can anticipate about 25 percent enrollment.
So if there are 100 students in the third grade, you can expect 25
students. A 25-percent enrollment for the first year of a
released-time program is excellent.
If you expect 25 students, recruit one volunteer for every three
students. So with 25 students, you’ll need eight or nine
volunteers.

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You also need to think about what kind of program you want to
offer: weekly, monthly, or a three-day retreat. Weekly released
time provides regular contact with students where you can nurture
high-impact relationships. Monthly released time is less taxing,
but it also offers less contact with the students. A three-day
retreat can offer a high-touch with a short-term — although
intensive — commitment on the part of the volunteers. You also
need to check state laws at the released-time Web site (www.releasedtime.org), as each specifies
different parameters. Establish a timeline. When will you start
your program? Obviously, there’s value in waiting for public
schools to get into swing before starting. Many existing programs
find that waiting until the end of September or the beginning of
October works best.

Talk to the school administration. Be professional with public
school officials; you want to be taken seriously. Educators take
their jobs seriously, and your professional demeanor will help pave
the way.

Check your attitude before you approach school officials; see the
public school as a friend, not an enemy. Make it your job to keep
the lines of communication open with the school at every step. This
program is probably new to them, as well. Resist the temptation to
be demanding or demeaning. Use words such as “partners,”
“cooperation,” and “working together” to help forge your
relationship. Even in states with very favorable released-time
laws, schools can thwart your efforts at every turn. You need a
good relationship; certainly, you’ll build that over time, but it
starts with your initial impression. Anticipate needs and offer
solutions to the school. Be prepared to talk about how you’ll get
permission forms to the students and how you’ll collect them.

Train. As your starting day approaches, provide training for your
volunteers. Work out the logistics of the first day. Think through
each step to be ready for anything. What if students are
disruptive? What if a group of students picks on an individual?
Invite teachers from the school to talk with your volunteers about
managing the classroom. While released time will be different from
school — more of a one-to-one setting — teachers’ advice will be
helpful and will strengthen your relationship with the
school.

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Practice. Have a practice run a week before you actually start,
including picking up children. This will help work out as many
glitches as possible. Remember to pray each step of the way.

Start. You’ve prayed, planned, notified the school, trained your
volunteers, and recruited students. Now take a deep breath and let
the fun begin. Watch God work through your efforts.

Praise. Praise God for answering your prayers and begin to pray
about the future. What happens next year? Will you add more grades
or additional schools? Will you need more volunteers? The cycle
begins again, but you’ve now got a year of experience under your
belt.

Unquestionably, God wants us to introduce Jesus to another
generation of children. Certainly, God wants us to awaken spiritual
awareness in our schools. Beyond that, it will certainly please God
if our students are catalysts for national social change and deep
personal hope. Released-time religious instruction is one tool God
can use to accomplish all that and more. cm

Jim Roberts is the former director of CBM Ministries of South
Central Pennsylvania, Inc. For information about and help starting
released-time programs, specifically in Pennsylvania, contact CBM
Ministries: 3741 Joy-El Dr., Greencastle, PA 17225; www.joyel.org;
email: cbm@joyel.org; (717)369-4539. You’ll find related links on
CBM’s Web site for information on other states.

     

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