It’s tradition at Lutheran North High School for Peer Ministers to hang welcome signs on the lockers of new students. This year, there were approximately 60 more hand written notes than last year, for the students enrolled in the brand new Lutheran North Middle School. The school opened its inaugural year with 20 students each in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. The mascot waited for the students on their first morning, welcoming them with high fives and cheers.
Even back in the 1990s, educators at Lutheran North saw potential for opening a middle school, and in the early 2000s as well. Dr. Tim Brackman, the principal of both the high school and middle school, says that in previous times, the majority of students attending Lutheran North High School came from other Lutheran schools. That’s not what he’s seeing from today’s students. Like many other Lutheran schools, many students now come from public schools or other parochial schools.
“Our community has found out about Lutheran North over the last many decades. We have a good reputation.” Dr. Brackman explains. “The need for a good middle school experience has been pretty well identified. We kept hearing stories anecdotally of families who were unhappy with their public schools that were nearby. Or because they were unhappy, they were leaving our area and driving to other parts of town where there was K-12 or 6-12 school. To us it just made sense to offer that.”
Natalie Grice, a seventh grader, couldn’t wait to start her first day after seeing the school’s website. She’s looking forward to meeting new friends, playing basketball and having more responsibility. She previously attended Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls. She knows a lot of the other kids from elementary school, and her cousin also is attending.
Natalie’s parents, Michaela West and Geron Howard, say that Natalie is the youngest and most responsible of six girls in their family (they also have a younger son). West’s cousin graduated from Lutheran North High School, so when she heard about the plans to open a middle school, she made it one of her top priorities to look into it. In addition, Howard has lived in the area for thirty years and has always had a positive impression of the school and he was impressed with the school’s curriculum. The school’s location also meant Natalie could be close to home.
The religious education was a considerable draw when selecting Natalie’s school. West is a preacher and a Gospel singer. “It’s great for [Natalie and her cousin] to be somewhere they can be free and be themselves.”
Howard adds, “Great character: that’s the start to life. You can have all the smarts in the world, but without character, that’s not going to get you much.”
West feels like the staff and faculty are very approachable, especially Dr. Brackman. She says, “I feel like everyone so far is so loving and warm and welcoming, I don’t think [the girls] will have any problems discussing their needs with everyone here.” They want to teach their girls to handle their own academic careers, only stepping in when absolutely necessary. They cite parental involvement as a critical factor to helping their kids succeed, both in an out of school.
Dr. Brackman and Dr. Michael Starks, the Middle School Director, both spoke to the middle school students alone, before the high school kids joined them for chapel in the gym. Both principals talked to the students about the historic moment of the schools first class. Dr. Starks emphasized the damage bullying can wreak on peers. During Chapel, the students sang with a praise band and the chaplain incorporated students from both age groups in an interactive lesson, literally having the students juggle together.
Dr. Brackman says that there are other Lutheran schools across the country that have successfully combined middle school and high school. In this endeavor, the team studied similar schools in Nebraska and Colorado, to learn best practices and share ideas.
It’s clear that this new school is appealing to families in St. Louis. With a little bit of targeted Facebook ads and other outreach, the school had more applications than seats and has many students on a wait list.