The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a nice story today (by reporter Elisa Crouch) about Unity Lutheran School in East St. Louis. This is a school supported by many of the congregations of the Southern Illinois District. I’ll post some excerpts from the story below, but go to the stltoday.com site to read the whole article, “Lutheran school thrives in E. St. Louis.” And check out the comments and the ten photos there, as well.
The LCMS school system has been one of the great strengths of our synod over its history. It’s how I came into the Missouri Synod, attending LCMS schools from kindergarten through seminary graduate school. When our schools are faithful to Lutheranism, strong on academics, and supportive of families, they are one of our greatest assets. CH
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Odds said Unity Lutheran Christian School wouldn’t make it.
It opened in 2003 as other urban faith-based schools were closing. And it took hold in East St. Louis, a place where the two Lutheran churches were barely scraping by, and most parents could not afford private-school tuition.
Nevertheless, a Lutheran mission board wanted to open a school in this struggling city, where the public school system had failed for years. And ever since, Unity Lutheran Christian School has defied the odds. . . .
Unity is supported by 96 Lutheran churches throughout Southern Illinois, most of them smaller, rural churches with aging members. The support is expanding. . . .
[Principal Paul] Miller, dressed this day in a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, begins the morning ritual of chapel. He leads the recitation of the week’s Bible verse. He plays guitar as the students sing. The children put coins in the offering plate.
Teaching the children about Jesus is as important as helping them catch up academically, Miller says. About 80 percent of the students come from families who do not regularly attend church. Nevertheless, parents say they want their children to get the Christian education Unity gives them. . . .
The school’s academics are improving. Most students started the school year at least one grade level behind. Last year, just 40 percent or so tested at grade level or better on the Stanford Achievement test, Miller said. This year, the number is about 50 percent. . . .
The Rev. Aaron Dickerson, assistant principal and seventh-grade teacher, said that inside the school, students “don’t need to worry about the stuff that goes on out in the community.” But the problems of East St. Louis, he added, “tug at them, That’s why we have to be a strong force.” . . .
In the last decade, the recession and other factors have resulted in about 10 percent of Lutheran schools’ closing nationwide. This year, King of Glory and Hope Lutheran elementary schools in St. Louis will close. Unity is the only Lutheran school to open in the St. Louis area in the last decade. There are two Lutheran churches in East St. Louis, and they’re barely making it, Schmidt said [Terry Schmidt, assistant director of schools for the LCMS]. The fact that the right combination of factors came together to help Unity succeed in spite of circumstances is no coincidence, he added.
“There is a huge need in East St. Louis, and people know that,” Schmidt said. “We believe God put everything together in that mix. It was not by accident.”