East Brainerd churches and residents are hoping to raise enough money to put Bible history teachers at East Hamilton Middle/High School and Tyner Academy.
Area parents said they'd like the same opportunities for their children to study Bible history as those who benefited from a similar fundraiser on Signal Mountain last year, said Bible in the Schools president Ralph Mohney.
"They came to us to see whether it was possible," he said. "Our response was if the community supports it, it could be possible."
East Hamilton Middle/ High tonight SUNDAY will host more than 1,000 people at the East Hamilton Gathering, a fellowship dinner and fundraiser that aims to raise enough money to support the teachers for three years.
Organizers are confident they will raise at least $150,000 to cover the Bible teachers' salaries and benefits plus administrative costs for the first year. But they hope to raise $450,000 to cover three years.
The Signal Mountain gathering a year ago raised more than $400,000 to pay for teachers at Signal Mountain Middle/High and Howard School of Academics and Technology for three years.
East Hamilton Middle/High Principal Pam Dantzler said she knew the nonprofit organization Bible in the Schools could not afford a teacher for the school but that it was "very, very important" to parents and students to have a Bible history class.
"The kids are very interested in learning [about Bible history], even those who have a very strong background with the church," she said. "They're fascinated with history as a viewpoint."
Mohney said 13 East Brainerd pastors met in February, just before the time when schools must commit to specific courses for the following school year, to discuss the possibility of putting together a fundraising event for the teachers.
He said the effort had enough initial backing from private foundations to cover part of the first year's costs, so he gave the go-ahead for a teacher at East Hamilton this year.
"We believe by the time of the dinner at least the first year will be raised," he said.
East Hamilton's Bible history teacher, Jeff Fairbanks, has about 150 students in his five classes, with the maximum number of students in each class.
"We could have three Bible history [teachers] and fill [the classes] completely," Dantzler said.
Tyner Academy Principal Carol Goss said the school hasn't had a Bible history teacher in at least 10 years.
"We had a number of students ask about having Bible history as an elective," she said. "[The students] are real excited at the possibility."
If tonight's gathering raises enough money, the classes at Tyner would start in the 2011-12 school year.