St. Paul Lutheran School in 2013 celebrates its sesquicentennial, 150 years of educating and guiding young minds in Fort Dodge.
"To put it in perspective," said Principal Gene Sommerfeld, principal, "Abraham Lincoln was president when our church and school was started."
Sommerfeld said he's pleased to be a part of the school's long heritage.
-Messenger photo by Brandon L. Summers
Students Parker Heyerhoff, left, Grace Sweeney and Angel Acosta study history together.
"What I think of are the many generations the school and church have served, and how we have students in our school who are third, fourth and fifth generations of their family attending St. Paul Lutheran School. I think that's pretty neat," he said. "Also, when you think of 150 years, three different congregations here in Fort Dodge have grown out of St. Paul. We are the mother church for three other Lutheran churches."
In 2012, facility improvements were made at St. Paul Lutheran during the summer.
"Our school offices, library and five classrooms on the second floor were all air-conditioned," he said. "Also, a new music room for both church and school was completed, providing a great space for the church and school choirs and school band to practice."
Such improvements benefit not only the students and faculty, but the school itself.
"It all helps to make that first impression," Sommerfeld said. "When parents come to look at our school, to visit, it's very important to make that first impression. New families today look at how updated a facility is, what kind of condition it's in. Plus, the air-conditioning certainly makes it nice for the students and teachers, like in August when it was so hot."
This school year, St. Paul Lutheran is contracting with Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency for a part-time technician. New technologies have also been acquired, including a new Epson projector, Mimio Teach and new white boards for the school's talented and gifted classroom.
"That makes seven classrooms now that we have with projectors and white boards," Sommerfeld said.
Teachers also have laptops for instructional use and a mobile cart for students, the result of an investment of dollars and time made over the last couple of years, Sommerfeld said.
Learning continues at St. Paul Lutheran not only with its students, but among its teachers.
"All this school year, the teachers are attending Iowa Core investigation meetings for math and ELA (English language arts)," Sommerfeld said. "Next fall, our teachers will be attending the National Lutheran Association, which will be held in Milwaukee."
Instructors at St. Paul Lutheran are dedicated to learning.
"They're dedicated to learning new strategies, learning new teaching methods that will engage the students," Sommerfeld said. "It's all about student achievement and having a student leave here that's prepared for not only college, but for careers."
Students at St. Paul Lutheran continue to reach out with charitable efforts.
"During the second quarter of this school year, children brought offerings and food items that supported the St. Paul program of giving away Christmas boxes," Sommerfeld said. "There were about 90 boxes given away. Our students were not the only source for food and money, but they were a major contributor."
This quarter, students are bringing offerings that will be sent to aid the needy in Haiti, and are also bringing in bank boxes of coins that will support missionary work in Thailand. As a reward, students participated in an online video conference about the work being done there.
"It brings Thailand into the classroom," Sommerfeld said.
In the fourth quarter, chapel offerings will be used to help Indian ministries in Alaska and Northern Canada, according to Sommerfeld.
At St. Paul Lutheran, such charity is not only a school activity but an educational standard.
"It's important that they learn outreach and sharing and giving when they're at this age so it becomes a part of their personality," Sommerfeld said. "They learn in our classrooms and through our religion class how God loves us and God has blessed us, and so we in turn want to love other people and show that love, and reach out to them with the blessings God has given us. We have been richly blessed here, so we want to share those blessings with other people."
St. Paul Lutheran in 2012 had an enrollment increase of 13 percent.
"We hope that enrollment growth continues in 2013 and '14," Sommerfeld said. "Two of our four (preschool) sessions are already at maximum enrollment and one has a waiting list."
He added, "It's certainly good news for our school to be looking at increased enrollment and nice to be serving more families, more students."
For a second year, St. Paul Lutheran students are participating in the Mileage Walking Club. Students record the distances they walk at home and school and report it to the teachers. Last year, the students and teachers together "walked" to Washington, D.C., during the first semester and "walked" to Disney World in Florida during the second.
"Our goal this year is to walk to Canada and maybe to Alaska," he said.
Sommerfeld is optimistic about 2013.
"It'll be a very good year for St. Paul, but there will be changes," he said. "There will be new things that will be going on here at St. Paul and those changes will be positive."
St. Paul Lutheran will have its first major event of 2013 with Friendship Sunday on March 3, an arts fair that will kick off National Lutheran Schools Week.
The event has many activities for children, Sommerfeld said, including a concert by Angela Naeve, a food drive, and Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart, both of which support the American Heart Association.
The church and school's sixth Growing Saints for Christ auction and dinner will be held April 6 at the Webster County Fairgrounds.