By Susan LeDoux
Members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, in Hilton, New York have always valued educating their children in the Christian faith. When the church needed a total re-build in 1992, the congregation instead added to its school, and willingly worshipped in the cafeteria until they completed the new sanctuary in 2005.
Mark Ball, School Administrator and Pastor, said there is a commitment on the part of the congregation that is “all in” for the students. He told of one member who called the office before Halloween and asked if she and her friends could distribute candy to the children as they left for the day, reminding each child “Jesus loves you.”
Ball’s goal is to get the congregation to see these children as their children, so there would be nothing they would not do for them. He said the faculty loves family involvement, but it is never mandatory.
He noted grandparents have become more engaged with their grandchildren’s schooling lately. Grandparents Day is “one of the most fun days of the year because grandparents are so invested and proud of their grandchildren, and they love what they see happening here.”
And a lot is happening, beginning with the Early Start Program for two year olds. With program options of 2 days per week from 9a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the children learn to socialize in the classroom setting while refining their fine and gross motor skills. Pre-school for three-year-olds and Pre-K offer either half or full days. Because both parents often work outside the home, “wrap-around” care is available from 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM or 2:00 PM to 5:30 PM.
All children are welcome regardless of religious affiliation. After early childhood classes, those who do not transfer to other schools, experience smaller (15-20 students) classes from elementary level through junior high. Depending on enrollment, grades may be paired, as is seventh and eighth grades this year. With a current enrollment of 219 (up from 107 six years ago), Ball expects continued growth.
Students from grade five and up do homework on their Chrome notebooks, and parents can easily communicate with their children’s teachers via the internet.
Since St Paul’s is a private school, Common Core is not mandatory.
“(We) allow teachers to create their own program that is, first, Christ centered, and second, at least meets, if not exceeds, state standards,” Ball said.
STEM is a popular educational approach that connects subjects in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. St. Paul’s utilizes a Christian version of STEM called STREAM, school wide from pre-school through eighth grade, which adds religion and the arts.
When students are ready for public or Christian/Catholic high school, all have acquired the equivalent of first year high school Spanish. Many have taken algebra regents, and earth science regents, “so they’re going in (to high school) as honors track students,” Ball said. Parents report the high school teachers recognize St. Paul graduates because the students show respect towards the faculty and thoroughness in work preparation. But for Ball, it is important his ‘kiddos’ leave St. Paul’s better for being there. He said the goal is not to be a school for the gifted, but for all children; and they can accommodate extended needs of children with their federally funded Title I teacher.
St. Paul’s recently offered classes for home-schooled children, but while no one took them up on the offer, five homeschooled children transferred full time.
“St Paul’s would be a gentle transition from home-school, because as a parent, you do have a say here. Our focus is to partner with parents in raising their children in the faith, not to take that responsibility away. It is a place where your child can be with other children and experience some of the things they are going to experience in life,” Ball said.
Yet he reminds parents that sending their children to a Christian school does not put them in a “safe bubble.” “They’re still going to see the world, but we would approach challenges that come up differently.
A large part of Christian education at St.Paul’s includes learning to live out one’s faith in ministry. The church campus includes a community garden the students maintain, with produce going to the Hilton Food Cupboard. In addition, at all-school worship on Wednesdays, children bring food items from home.
St. Paul students join in the annual Crop Walk for Hunger (a community wide event sponsored by Church World Services) to raise money for the hungry in the world as well as locally.
Kevin Rhodes, Assistant School Administrator, teacher and coach, started a Difference Makers Club. Students apply to meet for Bible study monthly, and to provide service to the school and community, such as joining the PB&J crew that makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Rochester’s Open Door Mission.
The annual School Fair and Open House draws family and community to the school where they can see the students’ work on display.
Pastor Ball: “I would encourage every parent to consider the difference partnering with a Christian school could make in the lives of their children. Understand how high a calling and how difficult a challenge it is to raise children who know and love Jesus, and want to follow him. Research indicates the prime faith formation time is from age two to nine. After that, it’s an uphill climb. Helping to nurture a faith foundation at the earliest age is maybe the most important thing we will do as parents. How great is it to have the opportunity to have people committed to that work joining you in that effort?”
For more information about St. Paul Lutheran Church and School go to https://www.stpaulhilton.org/