With the start of a new school year just days away, nearly 200 people gathered in downtown Rock Hill Sunday to kick off the season on a spiritual note.
The crowd of students, educators and community members who lined the Old Town Amphitheater prayed for hope at a time when budgets are strained - both at home and in the schools.
The heavenward appeals at the first Back-to-School Prayer Rally ranged from asking for all A's in classes to praying for no further teacher layoffs after school starts Wednesday.
Through a combination of layoffs, employee pay cuts, program changes and new student fees, Rock Hill schools plan to trim about $12 million in spending in the coming academic year.
"I pray that all the students behave," said Jayda Carroll-Deaton, a rising fifth-grader at Belleview Elementary School.
"Well, some of the students. I know we'll behave."
She and friend Joelle Glapinski, a rising sixth-grader at Dutchman Creek Middle School, were among members of St. Mary's Catholic Church who attended the rally.
"I pray that all the students who need colored pencils, crayons, notebooks, pencils and other items find the supplies they need through the generosity of others," she said.
The purpose of the rally was to call on God to intervene in the schools, bridging the gap between the schools and the community, said Forrest Turpen, national project director for the Christian Educators Association International, which organized the event.
"Together we're better," he said. "Across denominational lines. Across racial lines. And the things like that sometimes divide us. As you know, prayer changes things.
"We're here today with purpose: to bless our students, our teachers. So boys and girls are enhanced in the way they learn. For there to be more effective teaching, more effective school environments and better behaviors in our schools. And increasing godly values in our schools."
Shelby Beckler, 11, said she's excited to start school at Saluda Trail Middle School Wednesday.
"Oh, yeah, I'm ready. It's something new," she said. She attended Sunday's rally to pray for her classmates, teachers and principals.
Her mom, Dawn Beckler, said the rally is an important step to put God first at the start of the school year.
"It's good to come together as a community with the common denominator - and that's God," she said. "It gives us a good start to the year."
Sonja Robinson brought her daughter, Simone, a rising eight-grader at Dutchman Creek Middle School, to the rally to pray for her fellow students.
"We need prayer to help the schools and all those in it be safe this year," Sonja Robinson said.
"I pray for the great things that are to happen this year," Simone added.
The Northwestern High School's Troubadours, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church's Compass group, Flint Hill Baptist Church's Praise Dance Team and St. Mary's Gospel Choir performed between prayers from community and area church leaders.
Dan Young, youth director at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church, prayed specifically for the students.
"To prepare hearts and minds of all these students, I ask you will prepare them for what lies ahead of them this year," Young prayed.
"We ask you to wrap your loving arms around them - to challenge, encourage, strengthen, motivate and inspire not only the students, but the teachers and families."
The Rev. Bob Shrum, senior pastor at Oakland Baptist Church, challenged those at the rally to not let their prayers for the schools be a one-time event.
"Let this be the beginning of ongoing prayer for all of you who believe in the power of prayer."