November 21, 2007

Program Takes Bible Teaching to the Schools


REIDSVILLE -- A white school bus pulls up in front of Lawsonville Avenue School and a man gets out and goes into the school.

A few minutes later, 20 youngsters leave the school with the man and board the bus. The bus circles around a block and comes back to True Vine Baptist Church next door to the school.

There, bus driver Steve Andrews begins his 40-minute biblical history instruction with the students who range in age from 9 to 11 and are in the fourth and fifth grades.

How did the Bible Bus come into being?

In late 1982, the Reidsville Schools heard from two residents who recommended that the teaching of Bible in the Reidsville Schools be stopped on the grounds it was unconstitutional.

A group of concerned citizens formed the Rockingham Council of Bible Education in 1983. They raised money to buy a bus and hire instructors, with the understanding the courses would be taught off the school campuses. Carolyn Ray was the first teacher hired to work with the students.

Over the years, the program has grown and now Bible Bus classes are available with parental permission for fourth- and fifth- graders in Reidsville-area elementary schools. In addition, Bible h istory is an elective at Reidsville middle and high schools as well as Rockingham County middle and high schools.

In 1994, the Rockingham County Board of Education agreed to a proposal from the Bible Education Council to begin teaching classes at Reidsville intermediate and middle schools as well as Reidsville High School.

The teachers' salaries and all their equipment are paid by the council "at no cost to the county or city," Rod Connor, the council's vice president, said at the recent annual banquet.

Although the program also was available at Morehead H igh and Holmes M iddle schools for two years, it was suspended this year because of funding reasons.

"Our goal is to be back in Eden as soon as possible -- perhaps even next semester," said Andrews, the council president. "Many Eden residents want the program."

Six years ago, the budget was $30,000 to $35,000 to fund one teacher, said treasurer Bill Jenkins. This year's budget is $133,000.

"In 2001, we had a Bible Bus and a teacher in one school ; in 2003, we had the bus and two teachers ; in 2005, we had three full- time teachers ," Conner said.

"In three years, our budget increased about 50 percent about every two years ."

Andrews has been teaching the classes since 2004. He said he is fortunate to have a career in which he could adjust his schedule.

"It is a privilege," Andrews said, adding that he often has 20 to 25 students on the bus.

Seven elementary schools -- Bethany, Lawsonville, Monroeton, Moss Street, South End, Williamsburg and Wentworth -- are on Andrews' route. He goes to each school every two weeks.

Usually, about 250 students receive the lessons.

"As we start classes, other students see what is happening and ask their parents for permission slips," Andrews said.

"We make it available, and anyone who wants to have Bible class can do it," he said. "It's safe to say we are changing lives.

"We want to change lives. We want to change behavior and the Bible has a tremendous amount to say about that. The classes set standards."

There are waiting lists for all the on-campus classes.

"Our objective is to make Bible classes available to any student in Rockingham County," Connor said. "The only drawback is the money."

Chris Maillard, who teaches Bible in the county schools, estimated that 35 percent to 50 percent of his students started with the Bible Bus.

Maillard said he stresses integrity, self-discipline, meekness, honesty, compassion and forgiveness to his 30 students at RCHS.

Georgie Kuster said she has about 25 students in her class at Reidsville High School.

"A lot of children who are taking Bible do not know the stories in the Bible and are just learning them," she said. "We work with teenagers who are living a real (hard) life, and a lot of them don't have any hope, and we give it to them.

"These kids are being changed, and it's because you have made it possible for us to do what we do," Kuster told the audience.

(c) 2007 Greensboro News Record. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.