In conjunction with the start of the new school year, elementary students in the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD) can now partake in LifeWise Academy’s newest Released Time Religious Instruction (RTRI) program in central Ohio.
LifeWise Academy provides Bible-based character education to public school students during the school day, although it holds no affiliation with a school district and its curriculum. RTRI programs are covered under section 2213.6022 of the Ohio Revised Code and allow students to be released from public school during the school day to attend class provided the program is off school property, privately funded, and parent-permitted.
LifeWise Academy Olentangy has begun a pilot program that includes three elementary schools in the district. Grace Powell Church is hosting students from Wyandot Run Elementary, Good News Church is hosting Scioto Ridge Elementary students, and the Alum Creek Church of Christ is hosting Alum Creek Elementary students.
Jerry Johnson, the program director for LifeWise Academy Olentangy, said the hope is to go back to Olentangy Schools Superintendent Mark Raiff in the next few months to propose offering the classes to additional schools, including middle and high schools, in the district.
LifeWise Academy also has established programs in New Albany-Plain Local Schools, and Westerville City Schools began programs this school year. According to Johnson, both Dublin and Worthington city schools have “champions” that are preparing to ask for permission from their respective superintendents to establish programs in the district.
The program runs for the duration of the school year, and classes are held once a week for each school. Classes take place during a combined lunch and recess period, and students are escorted onto a LifeWise Academy bus for transportation to and from the host church.
As for the curriculum, itself, Johnson said, “Faith-based character development means that we’re using a centralized gospel message to address character development. So, the curriculum involves taking a specific character type — for example, gratitude — and using a Bible-based story about gratitude for the lesson of the week. … We’re just constantly building on those things which are virtues or character traits, but we’re using Bible-based stories in order to elaborate on and teach those traits.”
Johnson added that LifeWise Academy “really goes out of its way” to stay away from denominational types of differences. “It strives to keep the main and plain things in scripture the main and plain things taught in the classrooms,” he said.
When he was first approached about the program, Johnson admitted he was skeptical such an idea could work given the involvement with religion and public schools. However, as he began to look further into it and understand the legality of RTRI programs as they are defined, he saw an opportunity he was called to pursue.
“With our current society and some of the things that are happening, I just became so excited about the idea of providing those things which can really lead to improved student behavior, improved mental health for our young people, improved academic performance, and that it supported things that our educators are totally in favor of as well,” he said. “They’re also seeking to provide character education, and I thought, ‘Here’s something that goes along with the work that our educators are doing, something that is positive for our students, positive for our community. I just want to be a part of that.”
Johnson went on to say he has been overwhelmed by the support received from the congregations hosting the classes and even in the community at large. He added that while he knows the schools can neither promote nor discourage LifeWise Academy, he is thankful for the professionalism shown by the schools.
“They haven’t been roadblocks or tried to impede us in any way,” he said.
For more information on the program, or to sign up students, visit www.lifewiseacademy.org/olentangyoh. Registration is open all year, and Johnson can be reached via email at [email protected] for further questions about the program.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.