At this K-5 school in Machesney Park, Ill., staff puts a priority on helping students to feel like part of the family.
Concordia Lutheran School supports the belief that children are a precious gift from God. Since the school’s beginnings in 1961, faith and children have been at the cornerstone of this growing institution.
As an extension of Concordia Lutheran Church, a Missouri Synod-affiliated congregation in Machesney Park, Ill., the school has a culture where everyone is treated like family. Through a focus on Jesus Christ, community service and connecting with one another, the school continues to attract families who believe in the mission.
“Connecting within our school, but with families as well, is a pretty big deal to us,” says Katie Krause, school principal and second-grade teacher. “One teacher was mentioning today how she teaches kindergarten but she still knows all of the kids in fifth grade. They are still her kids.”
The family connection runs deep, because this school encourages all of its nearly 100 preschool to fifth-grade students to feel connected with one another. Typically, older students partner up with younger students to become reading buddies. Preschoolers visit the kindergarten each month for an activity.
“In our mission statement, we talk about partnering with parents and families, whether that be guardians or parents,” says Alex Marque, Concordia Lutheran’s pastor. “That helps us to provide an atmosphere of family but really encourages that family growth and growing together as a community.”
Teachers and staff are committed to a direct line of communication with parents. Marque also provides support and spiritual counseling for families.
“The support of education and personal growth, whether that be emotional, spiritual or academic, doesn’t stop in the classroom,” says Marque. “We’re able to keep communication going to provide support throughout the year.”
As the world outside Concordia changes, the need for a nurturing atmosphere has only increased. Love and care for students remains a top priority for the school’s leaders.
“We love each other here,” says Krause. “That doesn’t mean that things are always happy or that children never misbehave. We take care of each other. I think that’s pretty apparent.”
And it’s apparent in the school’s faith-based approach to education. Students’ spiritual lives are nurtured through everyday activities, including those times when discipline is handed out.
“We make sure those students know they are not bad, there’s nothing to feel ashamed of, because they are loved,” says Marque. “Even in those times that might not feel great, if a student misbehaves, we’re always able to make love and grace be the last word in everything that we do.”
This past year has been different in many ways, but Concordia staff continue focusing on the positive, especially as they’ve continued with in-person learning throughout the academic year. Some family activities, like Literacy Nights, have become virtual events instead. Dana Busker, the kindergarten teacher, regularly makes take-home kits for students and walks them through the activity live online. Videos are shared on the school’s Facebook page afterward.
Each year, the school has a Special VIP day where students are encouraged to bring a grandparent or special person in their life. Halloween brings Trunk or Treat and a parking lot filled with colorfully decorated cars and children parading around in their costumes. Thanksgiving and Easter commonly bring an Easter-themed program with other area Lutheran schools.
The end of the school year brings a school picnic and a program recognizing the fifth-graders’ advancement.
“At Concordia, students learn the basics of reading, writing, math, science and social studies,” says Krause. “Students are challenged to use these building blocks to develop to their God-given potential and are nurtured to be lifelong learners.”
Other specialties include band and orchestra, music, physical education, Spanish language, art and library.
Chapel service is part of the daily routine, as students worship weekly at Concordia. Services include a look at scripture and Christian living, with a promise of further guidance for those who desire to explore their faith more.
“For those who don’t have a church family, or maybe were not raised in church, we offer baptism and instruction toward baptism,” says Marque. “The instruction goes a little bit deeper and is outside of the classroom. We’ve had a number of students be baptized the past year.”
Marque is so involved between the church and school that he jokes he practically lives on campus. His goal is to know each family and answer spiritual questions as they arise. Marque makes a point to be at the school all morning and always has office hours for students.
“I treat even the families that aren’t members of the congregation to which Concordia is attached,” says Marque. “I don’t distinguish the spiritual needs of someone who’s a member or not.”
Adds Krause: “He’s out there at the car line. I think just having that presence goes back to how we feel like a family here. We all know each other and feel comfortable reaching out.”
Because it’s a smaller Lutheran school, Concordia has a major advantage in building deeper connections for learning.
“We can focus instruction a lot more on the individual child because of the small class size,” says Krause. “We can focus on where students are and give them what they need to grow and move forward as individuals.”
Parent volunteers provide further support in the classroom with activities like doing flash cards, practicing skills and helping with reading. This ensures that all students’ needs are fully met.
“Faith-based schools are able to provide the mindset of support,” says Marque. “We have a great staff that is well instructed on how to support that aspect of the education, and the spiritual, Christian part of the curriculum.”
Concordia Lutheran School is currently accepting applications for the next academic year. Families are invited to a general open house on April 25 at noon and a Kindergarten open house on April 29. More information can be found online at concordiamp.com/school.
Pastor Ken Krause’s Legacy
Because they maintain a tight-knit bond with students and their families, the Concordia staff made it a priority to support students and each other when Senior Pastor Ken Krause died unexpectedly this January. Krause had a large impact on the students and was a beloved member of the Concordia family.
Lutheran Church Charities brought comfort dogs to be with the students. Alex Marque, who was associate pastor at the time and is now the lead pastor, made himself available for students and continues to offer counseling.
“He loved the children so much,” says Katie Krause, Ken’s daughter and Concordia Lutheran School principal. “He really loved to be with them and tell them about Jesus and how much He loves them.”
Marque recalls fondly how much Krause loved students.
“He was never without a smile, never without a good word, to let the students know that they’re loved by God,” says Marque. “He was always excited to share that. Imagine someone who’s 6-foot-8 and shares that much excitement for God. He left such an impression on the kids. I just had some students come talk with me the other day, and they’re still impacted by his loss. It’s deeply felt in the deepest part of who we are. We also know that he was all about love for the students and sharing the message of the Gospel. That is something that has carried us forward.”