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Originally published: 2013-01-30 15:52:27
Last modified: 2013-01-30 15:52:27

Praying for Schools

by Sherrie Norris

The Newtown, Conn., tragedy spurred radical changes in the way that many Americans view life.

For David Ward, a youth ministry leader in Watauga County and educator and coach in the Avery County School system, the event heightened his desire for local schools to be covered in daily prayer.
 "The recent school shooting in Sandy Hook just really made it clear to us that we desperately need to pray daily for our local schools," Ward said. 

As director of Son's Light Ministries of Boone, which focuses on the spiritual needs and guidance of area youngsters, Ward shared his idea with co-worker Darla Turbyfill, curriculum support specialist at Newland Elementary School.

The pair quickly developed a community-based Praying4Schools program, with support from Avery County Schools Superintendent David Burleson. 

Ward referred to Burleson as "an awesome leader for whom I have great respect." 

Community support was overwhelming, Ward said, after he began discussing his plans to start a daily prayer program for Avery County students, faculty and staff.

"We couldn't believe how many people wanted to immediately get involved with this program," Ward said. 

"We could not have launched this project without Darla, who has been so diligent and faithful," Ward said. He said art teacher Mickey Banner also offered help by designing T-shirts. 

Turbyfill and Ward had no problems enlisting help, especially from individuals willing to pray daily for all those involved in Avery County Schools -- on their own time with no official school affiliation. 

Since their first official meeting in late December, Turbyfill said, 35 people have signed on to pray through this initiative -- and many more are expected to join. 

 "It's up and running in Avery County, but much support is still needed," Ward said. "We would love to have folks in Ashe and Watauga counties involved, too, so that we can include all of the High Country school students and personnel in a circle of prayer support."

The program goal, Turbyfill said, "is that we will be able to match every heartbeat involved with ACS, with a heartbeat willing to pray." 

The "Praying4Schools" seed was planted several years ago, Ward said, through conversation with Haley Wherry, who directs a ministry in Johnson City, Tenn., known as First Priority Blue Ridge, he said. 

"They already had a comprehensive school prayer program in place, similar to what we are trying to do in the High Country. We came back (to Boone) with all intentions of moving forward with the project, but for whatever reason, it just didn't materialize at that time."

The recent jump-start in Avery County, he said, was easy.

"We began by creating lists with the student's (first) names from each class, in all of our schools," he said. "We also created lists that included faculty and staff. Everybody who attends school or works in Avery County Schools is on a list. We also recruited prayer coordinators for each school."

 Ward said coordinators are responsible for gathering prayer warriors from the community. 

"We ask the prayer warriors to commit to praying for everyone on that list every day in 2013," he said.For example, Ward is praying daily for all central office personnel; his wife, Dawn, is praying for all principals and assistant principals in Avery County. 

"We feel it is important to pray every day for every person, by name," he said. 

"What a great way to get God directly involved with what is going on in our schools," Ward said. "We often hear that prayer has been taken out of schools. Well, let's put it back in. Schools don't pray anyway, people do." 

Ward said that he would love to see Watauga, Ashe and other area school systems join them or adopt a similar program. 

"It has always been about God's timing with us," he said. "The Lord just has a way of pointing us in the direction we need to go. We have had many ministry ideas over the past 10 years, some we have done and some we have not, but the bottom line is -- God has always provided us with some kind of sign to affirm his plans for us."

"Coach Ward and I share a love for Christ and talk about our relationships with him often," Turbyfill said. 

"Working with kids everyday and seeing that the needs in their lives are not getting met, really makes this an urgent issue," she said. 

Turbyfill said people often tell her that all they can do is pray. "My question to them is, what else is there to do?  Prayer is the most powerful tool known to man," she said. "Prayer changes lives. I know from personal experience. It has surely changed mine."

Turbyfill works with children with special needs and says she views her job "as an avenue to give children the tools they need to be successful."

"Sometimes," she said, "that starts with feeling safe or having improved self-esteem." Results, she said, that can come from prayer. 

"We already have in place coordinators for Newland Elementary, Riverside Elementary, Freedom Trail Elementary and Cranberry Middle School," Turbyfill said. 

"For this to be successful, we require the support of our communities and churches. We want everyone who is willing to commit to pray everyday -- in an effort to change our world -- to start with our school children," Turbyfill said.  

In a statement Wednesday, Burleson said, "As a school system, we are very supportive and encouraged by our community praying for us and our students. I personally believe in the power of prayer and appreciate and covet any and all prayers."  

Burleson confirmed that full names of students -- or any personal information -- is not released through this program. 

"I also double-checked with our attorneys to make sure that our staff members, who are doing this, are on solid legal ground," he said.

For more information about Praying4Schools, contact David Ward at ( Darla Turbyfill may be reached at (