High schools say they are finding Bible classes an increasingly popular student option.
Eight local schools offer them, at least two more in Columbia County could join the list next year, and Richmond County is considering adding more.
Creation of new classes is based on several factors, educators say.
"It depends on student interest and it depends on whether or not schools can fit it into their schedules," said Jene Kinnitt, the curriculum coordinator for language arts in Richmond County. "Sometimes, study skills courses may take precedence over other electives."
Columbia County maintains an 18-student minimum enrollment before any elective course is added, said Rose Carroway, the director of high school student learning.
Both Dr. Kinnitt and Dr. Carroway said they hope more students consider the Bible classes because they often boost a student's academic performance in other areas.
"Based on research, it seems that (Advanced Placement) exams use a lot of biblical allusions," Dr. Kinnitt said. "Students who don't have prior knowledge of the Bible don't do as well on those standardized tests that require critical thinking and analogies to biblical references."
Beyond improved test scores, Dr. Carroway said Bible studies also promote higher-level thinking skills.
"When you read the Bible, and it's a tough read, and try to interpret and understand it, your critical-analysis skills are heightened exponentially," she said. "That's the value of the course."
Biblical knowledge often informs many other topics, educators said.
"I pull examples and have them cite examples of the Bible's impact on literature, movies, music and art," said Donna Cason, a language arts teacher at Greenbrier High who also teaches a Bible class. "It comes up a lot, and some students don't understand the references when they come up because they don't have the background."
Examining the Bible's influence throughout history and on modern society is the basis for the course in Georgia public schools.
During a Wednesday Bible class at Greenbrier, students read passages from Matthew, 1st Corinthians and Ezekiel. They discussed whether Jesus was the culmination of Old Testament prophecies, Christ's inclusion of the Old Testament in his teachings and the centuries of conflict between Christians and Jews.
"I teach it objectively, not subjectively," said Ms. Cason, who considers herself a Christian. "I don't preach and tell them what to believe. It's more of a historical and cultural class."
Josh Klink, a 16-year-old sophomore at Greenbrier, is one of 30 students in his Bible course.
"When I moved here (from Virginia) I stopped going to church," Josh said. "Now I'm going back. I wanted to take a Bible class to kind of relearn what I already knew and to learn even more."
Sean Strasma, a senior, took the course for its academic value.
"I'm really into social studies," he said. "This course gives me a better look at the effect the Bible has had on society and history."
Ms. Cason said she understands the fine line she walks in teaching a course about the Bible .
"You have to constantly remind them that the (school) system is not promoting one thing over another because many are studying it as Scripture, not literature," she said. "I don't want to take that away from the students who feel that way, but at the same time I'm trying to get them to look at it from other viewpoints."
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SCHOOLS OFFERING BIBLE COURSES
- Lakeside High
- Hephzibah High
- Westside High
- Greenbrier High
- Evans High
- Josey High
- Butler High
- Glenn Hills High