LUTHERAN

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birth­day cake in his hon- or, dress­ing up as Dr. Seuss char­ac­ters and a va­ri­ety of other ac­tiv­i­ties.

The school also held school-wide de­vo­tions, prayer, singing and mu­sic and a tal­ent show.

Sally Hiller, di­rec­tor of schools for the South­east District, said the Lutheran Church-Mis­souri Synod, its gov­ern­ing body, al­lows each district to choose when it will cel­e­brate Lutheran Schools Week.

“It’s about cel­e­brat­ing our iden­tity as Luther- an schools, about be­ing grounded in the word,” Hiller said. “Our theme for this year is ‘Upon This Rock’; rec­og­niz­ing that Je­sus Christ is the rock of our sal­va­tion, our firm foun­da­tion,” Hiller said.

Jeff Bur­kee is in his fifth year as prin­ci­pal of Grace Lutheran. He said be­ing able to work with and min- is­ter to chil­dren are what have kept him in the field of Lutheran ed­u­ca­tion for most of his adult life.

“Ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent. It’s not like some jobs where you go to work and do the same thing ev­ery day,” Bur­kee said.

Lutheran schools have changed con­sid­er­ably dur­ing his 36 years in the field, Bur­kee said.

“It used to be, when I started out, the stu­dents were mostly chil­dren of church mem­bers, and now it is the re­verse. Most of our stu­dents are non-Lutheran stu­dents. Some Chris­tian, many non-Chris- tian, that have come to our school, not only for a re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion, but a pri- vate ed­u­ca­tion too.”

Hiller said Lutheran schools work hard to be wel­com­ing to other faiths.

“Out­side the Lutheran fam­ily, folks look at the Lutheran school and see that it’s a very safe, nur- tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment, the class sizes are such that it’s pos­si­ble for ev­ery child to thrive, not just sur­vive in, but thrive ac- adem­i­cally, thrive in the de­vel­op­ment of so­cial skills. And we get to teach Je­sus here,” Hiller said.

Grace Lutheran has 263 stu­dents and ex­tends from pre-kinder­garten for twoyear-olds through eighth grade. The school first opened in 1974 as a pre- school and added grades over time, Bur­kee said.

“It was not un­com­mon years ago for ev­ery Lutheran church to start a Lutheran school,” Bur- kee said. “Not so much these days, though.”

Hiller said it is much less com­mon now for a grade school to grow out of a Lutheran church.

Na­tion­ally, there are over 1,100 early child- hood cen­ters and over 800 schools in the Lutheran Church-Mis­souri Synod, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from its web­site.

En­roll­ment in non-Catholic, re­li­giously-af­fil­i­ated schools de­clined ap­prox- imately 14 per­cent be­tween 1999 and 2013, ac- cord­ing to data from the Na­tional Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics. (https:// nces.ed.gov/pro­grams/ coe/in­di­ca­tor_cgc.asp)

Hiller said one of the big­gest chal­lenges is chang­ing eco­nomics and ris­ing costs of ed­u­ca­tion.

“That makes it dif­fi­cult, and we’ve not nec­es­sar­ily de­vel­oped the rich sup­port of schol­ar­ships to be able to bring ev­ery­body in on schol­ar­ships,” Hiller said. “Schools are work­ing hard to de­velop schol­ar­ship sources, so that they can be a bet­ter out­reach in their own neigh­bor­hood.”

In ad­di­tion, Hiller said many schools face in­fra- struc­ture chal­lenges.

“Some­times the chal- lenge is our schools are lo­cated in churches and fa­cil­i­ties that are ag­ing,” Hiller said. “But this facil- ity [Grace Lutheran] is an in­cred­i­ble fa­cil­ity, and it of­fers a joy­ful space. But imag­ine if this were in the cen­ter of Bal­ti­more city, there would be a dif­fer­ent set of chal­lenges, and this build­ing would look very dif­fer­ent.”

Hiller, how­ever, noted that Grace Lutheran’s en­roll­ment has been on the rise.

“I think that the grow­ing stu­dent pop­u­la­tion here, the stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion in the com­mu­nity, all point to that this is a place a lot of peo­ple come and call their ed­uca- tional home,” Hiller said.

Paula Jones, mid­dle school math­e­mat­ics and sci­ence teacher, is one of the school’s “called teach­ers,” mean­ing she has com­pleted the­o­log­i­cal train­ing in ad­di­tion to ed­u­ca­tional train­ing.

“It’s sim­i­lar to pas­tors, in that we are is­sued a call to serve. As a Chris­tian school, it’s not just our job to teach, it’s our call or duty to pro­claim the Lord and Je­sus to all our stu­dents,” Jones ex­plained.

Jones said she en­joys be­ing able to teach at a Lutheran school. “When stu­dents are sad, or when tragedy hap­pens, we can take a break and pray. We have de­vo­tions ev­ery morn­ing, and the stu­dents take part in that, and it just draws us closer as a class.”

Ruth Black­well, fourth grade teacher, was a former prin­ci­pal at the school. She left the school in 2012 to be a prin­ci­pal at a school in Ten­nessee, but has since re­turned to teach. The daugh­ter of a pas­tor, Black­well went to school to be­come a Lutheran called teacher.

“The best part about it is be­ing able to share my faith with my stu­dents,” Black­well said. “To be able to pray with them, to share thoughts on Scrip­ture, and help them grow in their faith, as well as teach­ing tra­di­tional sub­jects as well.”

Grace Lutheran sev­enth graders Chloe Tay­lor and Kaken­zie McDonough, dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat,” pre­pare to read sto­ries they wrote to kinder­garten stu­dents dur­ing the school’s Read Across Amer­ica event, held in con­junc­tion with Lutheran Schools Week.

A Grace Lutheran pre-kinder­garten teacher reads Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” to her stu­dents dur­ing the school’s Read Across Amer­ica event Thurs­day, held in con­junc­tion with Lutheran Schools Week.

Grace Lutheran School pre-kinder­gart­ners Gabe Pa­ganucci, Cay­den Burns and Rea­gan Hanna try some green, food col­ored eggs dur­ing the school’s cel­e­bra­tion of Dr. Seuss’s birth­day, held in con­junc­tion with Lutheran Schools Week.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Grace Lutheran School sev­enth graders An­nika Thom­sen and Tad Stine read to kinder­gart­ners Sa­van­nah Martin and A.J. Rabasco dur­ing Lutheran Schools Week.

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