A group of educators and friends will gather Sunday evening to ask God to help Rock Hill schools.
The Back-to-School Prayer Rally, organized by the local chapter of Christian Educators Association International, is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. in the Old Town Amphitheater at City Hall.
While the 8-year-old group has held ceremonies to honor educators, adopted teachers and schools, this is its first prayer rally.
Chapter president Susie Hinton said she felt called to organize it.
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"With strained family budgets and continuous cuts at our schools, we want to offer a sign of hope to our students, families and educators," said Hinton, who is also a member of the Rock Hill City Council.
"We believe by starting the school year on a spiritual note, our children will be able to focus on doing their best and helping each other."
It's needed, she said, "particularly in this time, in this town, in this state."
Through a combination of layoffs, employee pay cuts, program changes and new student fees, Rock Hill schools plan to curb roughly $12 million in spending in the coming academic year. That's to make up for shortfalls in state money for education.
Sunday's hourlong ceremony is scheduled to include performances by Northwestern High School's Troubadours, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church's Compass group, Flint Hill Baptist Church's Praise Dance Team and the St. Mary's Gospel Choir.
"We're going to pray for a successful school year for students, families and educators," said Terrence Chisolm, a Saluda Trail Middle special needs teacher helping to organize the rally. "No matter what religion or denomination, people will come together."
Christian Educators Association International's national project director, Forrest Turpen, plans to fly from Anaheim, Calif., this weekend to take part.
Events like Rock Hill's are the type the association hopes for, Turpen said.
"We encourage churches to partner with schools and do extreme makeovers - come in and paint, renovate, mentor, tutor," he said.
In the past, the Rock Hill chapter has chosen a teacher or school to embrace and support for the year, said Hinton, who once taught in Connecticut.
One year, a class of students got Christmas presents. Another, the group paid for a field trip.
The chapter annually honors 20 to 25 local educators, recommended by churches, with a ceremony and trophies.
"We've never had a prayer rally," Hinton said. "We're hoping for hundreds.
"A number of voices out there standing together as one will make a difference."