LifeWise Academy coming to Shadyside

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Wayne Cooper, a volunteer with the Bible-based LifeWise Academy, speaks Wednesday to Shadyside Village Council about plans to offer classes to Shadyside Local School District students. Board of Public Affairs member Sue Ferrelli, seated, and others listen.

SHADYSIDE — The Bible-based educational program of LifeWise Academy could be offered to Shadyside School District students in the fall of 2023.

Wayne Cooper, Lifewise volunteer, spoke about the academy to Shadyside Village Council during its Wednesday meeting.

“What this is about is enabling us to provide biblically-based character training and character education for our school kids during school hours,” he said, adding that this is called released time religious instruction, ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952. “There’s a tremendous need.”

Cooper said the program is strictly optional and must operate outside school grounds; parental consent is required. He said the program also must be privately funded.

“We will fund ourselves. We are raising money now,” Cooper said. “We have our feet under us.”

The steering committee consists of Bob Blinco, Mark Duvall, Veronica Haile, Brittany Kaldor and Jillian Ongley. A volunteer governing board will also be established.

A paid part-time director will be hired to operate the program, along with about two experienced teachers and volunteers to take the students from the school to the class. According to information he provided, LifeWise assumes liability for students as soon as they exit the school. The program is not affiliated with or supportive of any political party or figure.

“This is nothing new,” Cooper said. The program was initiated in 2018 in Hilliard, Ohio. There are currently 135 established in schools, mainly in Ohio, and 475 in different stages of launching. “It’s growing tremendously fast. They’re having a hard time keeping up, because whenever someone hears about this … their eyes light up. … It’s relevant, it’s real and it’s working.”

He said they are working with the Shadyside Local School District.

“The school has a policy on the books already, permitting this. They’ll become our partner,” Cooper said. “We need to coordinate with their schedule.”

He said the education will likely be in 40-minute classes.

“We’re starting off with fifth and sixth grade. When we first started talking with the school, that was their preference because of the location and because of all the upheaval the fifth and sixth grade kids were going through,” he said, adding the program plans to expand to third and fourth grade students.

Classes will be held at the Lincoln Avenue Methodist Church, since it is close to the school building. Classes could tentatively be held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Classes are non-denominational.

Shadyside schools Superintendent John Haswell said the fifth and sixth grades are on the first floor of the high school, which makes for a more convenient trip to the nearby church. He added that the district has a history of working with the church.

“The Methodist church currently feeds our kids every week. The high school kids. They give them a free lunch every week. They’ve done that for years — literally it’s 15 feet away from the high school,” Haswell said.

“Right now, we’re looking at doing it prior to school, starting at approximately 7:30 a.m. or 7:25 a.m. So this year or next year, it won’t even be during the school day. It will be before the school day,” Haswell said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the simple fact that, number one, it is voluntary; number two, it’s talking about character building through the Bible. I think it’s just a wonderful thing for parents and children who want to connect in that manner.”

Cooper said there are other LifeWise Academy sites being planned in Belmont County, including in districts such as St. Clairsville-Richland City School District.

Lifewise education program discussed in St. C.

Village council members expressed approval.

“Sounds like an excellent, needed program,” Councilman Nick Ferrelli said.

Cooper said anyone interested in the academy can visit lifewise.org for information and samples of the curriculum.


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