Prayer in school is a controversial topic, but just what are the rules regarding its use at local schools and school-related events? The Times examines those policies and just how they affect students. Plus, we take a look at the prevalence and diversity of religious clubs. If you're a parent or student and want to share your opinion on the topic for inclusion in the story, contact reporter Dallas Duncan at 770-718-3428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early Wednesday morning, students around the world gathered next to flagpoles in front of their schools.
They spoke different languages, wore different clothes and probably had different breakfasts. But they gathered for a common reason: to pray.
Every Hall County and Gainesville middle and high school participated in the international See You at the Pole event, said Jason Lester, area director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"It's a time when students not only can come and pray for their nation, their school and their administrators and teachers, it's also a time when they can stand out as the buses are rolling in, all the kids are walking in, they're making a statement that they're here for Christ," said Deborah Eidson, FCA adviser at Johnson
Eidson has been at Johnson for seven years and said See You at the Pole has been going on at the school for at least that long.
"Most schools just do this on the national day, usually the last Wednesday in September," Lester said. "It's neat to see what the different schools do, like they do praise and worship, group prayer and another school may have the chorus sing."
West Hall Middle School had close to 300 in attendance along with a sign language interpreter.
Flowery Branch High School reported more than 60 students coming. North Hall High School had close to 40 students, and several local pastors pray, as well as Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield visiting.
"We start off with probably 20 to 30 here and end up with anywhere from 70 to 100," Eidson said. "What we typically do is sing a few songs ... and at that point break up into groups of four to 10 and get into small group prayer. The big part of it is to be praying for all of our leaders and to pray for the schools and bringing God into the schools."
See You at the Pole started as a grass-roots movement by a group of students in Texas in the 1990s. Students encouraged each other to meet and pray at the flagpole, which was a central location all schools had, said Doug Clark, promotion coordinator for the national See You at the Pole.
That first year, 45,000 students at 1,200 schools in the U.S. participated. Now, that number is closer to 2 million students internationally.
"This is bigger than us," Clark said. "We're encouraged in the Scriptures to pray for those around us. There's something about different people from different Christian backgrounds coming together and praying."
Though FCA did not start See You at the Pole, the organization adopted it because the event fits its mission, Lester said.
"It's just a great demonstration of their faith. You see the buses and the kids coming in around us that may have never participated but they're getting to see this demonstration this morning," he said.
Isaac Cooper, 16, a junior at Johnson, has participated in See You at the Pole since sixth grade.
"We just pray that Jesus can speak through us and we can reach people," he said.
Johnson High junior Kayla Reed, 16, said the event is a way to see how God is working in schools.
"The people that believe in him and that really trust in him are getting stronger and leading other people to him," she said. "We pray for the salvation of the people that are lost, mainly, but we pray also that we will get stronger in Christ and be better leaders."
Her freshman year, that prayer for salvation was answered at See You at the Pole.
"It really affected a lot of people," Reed said. "They really wanted to know what was going on. It brought a lot of people over here which brought more people to FCA."
Eidson said it was uplifting to see so many students taking a stand for their religion.
"These kids are going from sleepy-eyed, ‘I just woke up' to really being in God's presence," Clark said.
After listening to several contemporary praise and worship songs, the students at Johnson High's See You at the Pole split into small groups to pray and celebrate their faith.
"I pray God that you can give us the passion and fire that we need to be able to do this stuff," Johnson High junior Ryan Davis, 16, said during small group prayer at Johnson's event.
"I thank you for just allowing these kids out here to have the courage to be able to show, ‘Hey, you know what, I am a Christ-follower and I'm going to live like it.' I pray you can help us live like it and be a light unto you."