High school students rise early for religious study

Originally published in the Columbus Dispatch – November 12, 2019

About 400 high school students get up before their classmates each morning to go to seminary classes before school at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapels in central Ohio. They spend 50 minutes learning about scripture with other students and can graduate from the program.

Jacob Hoyt sets five alarms, spaced nine minutes apart, each night before he goes to bed.

He makes sure the volume of the radio alarm clock is set to the highest volume, and that it’s on a rock station.

The 15-year-old has to be at the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church) by 5:45 a.m. each morning, and he knows he’s a heavy sleeper.

So he sets his first alarm for 4:15 a.m. and is in seminary class at the Far West Side chapel on time, which he says he enjoys attending first thing in the morning.

“This is kind of a prep time for me,” Hoyt said. “It puts me in a better mood with my siblings when I get home.”

Seminary is a religious education program for high school students, ages 14 to 18, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and usually takes place before school.

About 400 central Ohio students participate, according to Susan Hunter, a church spokeswoman, and more than 400,000 students attend worldwide.

Hoyt is one of 10 students who attend the 50-minute, early-morning seminary class at the chapel, which is part of the Westland Ward of the church.

Though the students are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the classes are open to students of all faiths. Participation is voluntary, but most students take part during all four years of high school. They discuss a different book of scripture annually, so by the time they graduate high school they have learned the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants of the church.

Each morning, Seminary teacher Mary Peterson arrives before the students and sets out milk and treats, including donuts, cereal, cookies and candy. She writes a Bible verse on the board and assigns different students to say the opening prayer, read a devotional of their choice and then say the closing prayer.

A teacher at the Ohio Virtual Academy, Peterson has taught seminary for two years in her free time.

“There is so much going on in the world … this just provides them a very strong foundation,” Peterson said. “It helps them to be morally strong and it helps them make the decision of the kind of people they want to be and who they want to pattern their lives after.”

The purpose, she said, is to help young people have a strong foundation in the scripture and know that “the savior is there for them.”

Robyn Watts, 41, of Hilliard, attends with her 15-year-old autistic son Isaac each week, and went to Seminary when she was in high school.

“Because I felt the influence it made on my life, I felt it was important for my kids to have that,” she said. “That became my support network, that knowledge base of scripture I felt was a very important backbone.”

Tyler Slater, a 17-year-old junior, has been attending Seminary for three years. On a recent weekday, he was dressed in jeans and a button-down shirt, though he says he usually comes in his pajamas. He has time after Seminary to go home and change before heading to school, he said.

Slater joked about the early morning wake-up call, but said the scripture study is worth it, as he plans on going on a mission. Thousands of young people in the church go on missions to help serve others across the world.

His friends, however, think he’s insane.

“It’s nice to have something spiritual in the morning to uplift me and get me through the day,” Slater said.

To learn more about Ohio Virtual Academy, visit https://ohva.k12.com/.

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