By RACHAEL OSBORNE
---- — PERU — Dozens of North Country students gathered this week around their school’s flagpoles, joining millions around the world for the Global Day of Student Prayer.
The annual prayer rally, called See You at the Pole, started with a small group of teenagers in Burleson, Texas, in 1990. On the fourth Wednesday of each September, students meet before school to lift up their friends, families, teachers, school and nation to God.
The First Amendment guarantees students the right to gather and pray on school grounds outside of instructional time and is a constitutionally protected form of free speech.
This year, about 40 students, parents and faculty members rounded the flag pole at Peru Central School early Wednesday morning for the student-led, student-driven initiative. High School Principal Christopher Mazzella was also in attendance.
“This is your school and your community, and we’re here to support you,” Tracy Posada, a physical-education teacher, told students.
The students prayed silently, while some adults offered prayers aloud.
“We ask that this school will be a safe haven for all ... Lord, I ask that each student will be able to find a friend, that they would be able to trust someone,” one said.
“We thank you for the blessing of this country, that we have the freedom to gather in your name, and we ask you to be with the leaders of this country, this region and the leaders of the world,” said another.
“I thank you for Peru School District. I thank you for all the teachers who are among us, for the children that are among us here,” another added.
“Throughout your day, just look around, because you are not alone,” Posada told the group after the prayer.
“A couple years ago, a young woman who moved here came to me and she said, ‘I feel like I’m the only Christian at school.’ And I don’t feel that’s the truth.
“You know, we live in a world where everything can be kind of sad. In schools, there’s bullying; there’s things that are going on. There’s hard tests; there’s everything. You’re not alone. You’ve got other people to talk with ... so just keep that in mind.”
Wednesday was the second See You at the Pole rally for Sam Rock, a ninth-grader.
“It means that we can all come together and see that we’re not alone in school, and we can all pray together as one,” Rock said.
See You at the Pole has helped her realize that she’s not the only Christian at her school.
“Before I came to this, last year, I just didn’t see many people who believe in God. Now, I can look around and see so many familiar faces, and it makes me feel really good that there’s other people that think the same thing and come, and we all praise God,” she said.
Rock, along with her brother, first-grader David Parks, who was also at the gathering, helped hang up posters announcing the event around the school.
“I just think it’s a really cool thing that schools across the nation can do this,” Rock said.
FREEDOM TO PRAY
At Beekmantown Central School, four students, all from the same church youth group, gathered at the High School flagpole for the occasion.
Nick Hebert and Anna Stitt, 10th-graders at the school, took the lead in organizing the event at Beekmantown. Last year, Hebert put up posters; this year, he used Facebook to promote.
“We were praying that it will grow,” Hebert said.
For about 15 minutes before the start of classes, the students prayed “for our school with the cuts; for the nations; for the kids that don’t believe (in God), that they’ll soon find Christ; for our academics; and just special things that we wanted to pray for ourselves about,” Hebert said.
Praying as a community is meaningful, he said, and Stitt agrees.
“I thought it was really cool that we could all get together and pray for our country and our school and everything. It’s really good that we have the freedom to gather in prayer, so we prayed for other countries that (can’t),” she said.
“It’s showing that we love God and pray to him even in a school setting, and sometimes that’s hard, and we can kind of show his love to other people, too.”
Stitt said they prayed for the strength to talk to others about God in school.
“We just want to be able to … be expressive about what we believe and stuff,” Hebert said. “Our main focus, I think, was just to be able to pray so that we can reach out to more people this year and in the coming years.”
Hebert attends two youth groups: one at First Assembly of God and one at the Church of the Nazarene in Plattsburgh.
“At both youth groups, we’re talking about how to preach the gospel to other people, and we were talking about that at the pole so that we’ll be able to preach it,” he said.
SPREADING THE WORD
For Rock, Hebert and Stitt, See You at the Pole is a welcome conversation starter.
“In school, some people were asking about what it was, and they were saying that they were Christians, too,” Stitt said.
Rock said she knows there are a lot of students who don’t believe in God.
“They might think about it once they see this, and I really hope a lot of kids will think about it (having a relationship with God) and it will change a lot of lives.”
Email Rachael Osborne: firstname.lastname@example.org
TO LEARN MORE
For more information about See You at the Pole or to learn about your constitutional rights as a student or administrator concerning religious expression in public schools, visit syatp.com.