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