Since Rockford Lutheran School got its start in 1964, students of all faiths have benefited from its unwavering dedication to education, spiritual growth and personal development. It’s a place that emphasizes the importance of academic challenge and hands-on education. Its focus, from the beginning, has been to provide students with the tools they need to nurture their God-given talents and to realize their potential.
This mission was formidable enough in a pre-pandemic world, but in a community still dealing with the global effects of COVID-19, the administrators, educators and students of Rockford Lutheran School are navigating newly charted territory. For Don Kortze, Rockford Lutheran School’s academic dean, the way forward is to remember the past and keep the focus on the students’ needs.
“There’s a lot that we’ve learned in the past two years that has taught us that there’s more to education than just offering challenging classes,” Kortze says. “As a school, we’re here to connect with kids through social opportunities. We do more than just teach them content.”
For Kortze, these social connections are made more difficult with remote, long-distance learning.
“Harmony is one of our core values,” he says. “We value each other equally, and we live that out in the classroom and on the playing field. There’s a difference between learning in your bedroom at home and sitting in a classroom with a teacher and classmates you can interact with.”
Maintaining the classroom dynamic has been a struggle for schools throughout the country, with many choosing to move strictly to a remote model. While remote learning opportunities are available for students in quarantine, Kortze takes pride in Rockford Lutheran School’s ability to stay the course in the classroom.
“We’ve developed and built a learning system that allows our teachers to deliver some really fine content in an online situation, so a student can go home and do what they need to do and not miss a step when they come back,” he says. “Young people are dynamic and thrive on variety, but at the same time, they need consistency, security and comfort.”
Kortze also points out that the online platform used in remote learning can be easily integrated in a classroom setting, providing a more robust learning experience.
“If we can take those great online resources and use them while we’re working together in a classroom, that consistency of being able to interact and fulfill those social and emotional needs while learning are being met,” he says. “Our kids are doing some things online that are amazing learning opportunities, but they’re also able to work in a classroom with a teacher.”
This method is seeing results. In Rockford Lutheran School’s 2021 graduating class, 17% were recognized as Illinois State Scholars. Almost $10 million was awarded in scholarships to these students, and almost 90% of students enrolled in college after graduation. This success, says Kortze, comes from Rockford Lutheran School’s continued focus on providing an academic setting that also provides stability, love and support.
“We’re Christ-centered,” he says. “Our teachers are here because Christ has called us here. His call to us is to love each other, just like he loves us. That’s exactly what we seek to accomplish in the classroom.”