SHERIDAN — Parents everywhere face choices regarding where to send their children to school. Options include large districts with a lot of extracurricular options, smaller districts with a more tight-knit feel and private schools that offer more traditional learning and classroom work.
Sheridan offers three private-school options — Martin Luther Grammar School and its sister school Immanuel Academy, as well as Holy Name Catholic School.
Holy Name is the oldest and largest private school in Sheridan, serving 120 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. MLGS and Immanuel Academy began less than 15 years ago. As opposed to public schools, all three private schools have the freedom to incorporate religious principles and morals — Catholicism and Lutheranism — into their classes.
MLGS and Immanuel Academy also have a unique instructional style.
Students learn through the classical method of teaching, which focuses on grammar, spelling and arithmetic in elementary school, and later includes logic and rhetoric.
Holy Name has a more common teaching method that aligns with most public schools.
“We get to teach kids how to think, not merely what to think, according to the fads or the theories of the day,” MLGS headmaster Rev. Paul Cain said.
Along with Cain, MLGS has two teachers and 14 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, so every class includes students in different grades. MLGS mixes a traditional teaching style with modern technology.
“In some respects, it’s like ‘Little House on the Prairie,’” Cain said. “But instead of the little chalkboards that each student had under their desk, we’ve got markerboards and Kindle Fires.”
MLGS students begin their day with a 15-minute chapel session led by Cain, who also teaches religion class later in the day. During chapel, Cain provides lessons from different Bible readings, and the group sings religious hymns. Students sing a few of the songs in Latin and even say a few Latin words like “sit” and “stand” during class.
The morning at Holy Name starts in a similar fashion. The entire school gathers for 15 to 20 minutes of morning prayer and song. All students also attend weekly Mass every Friday. Holy Name kindergarten teacher Mandy Leach said the daily gathering helps bring students and teachers together.
“It’s a family thing,” Leach said. “That creates our community.”
Mary Margaret Legler always wanted to teach in a Catholic school. After 28 years as an educator in public schools, the Holy Name Catholic School principal came to Sheridan eight years ago for her current position. She hasn’t looked back, calling it her dream job.
“Every day I come into a world of utopia where the kids are kind, loving and caring, and the staff are teaching those values,” Legler said.
Like Legler, Leach wanted to teach in a Catholic school. Unlike Legler, she never considered public education. Leach attended Holy Name and realized around third grade that she wanted to come back and teach in the school some day. Leach is in her 12th year teaching at the school and her children also attend Holy Name.
“I’ve always thought I’ve been called to be a teacher, and this is where I’m called to be,” Leach said.
Many teachers at Holy Name consider their role a calling, not just a job.
“When it’s your mission to serve God and others, it just has a different feel and flavor to it,” Legler said. “The difference is having Christ the center in our school and in our life. It’s the heart of our school. Without Christ, we’re not different than any other public school.”
Cain also spoke about differentiating MLGS from a public school.
“You need to know what your goals are as a private school,” Cain said. “Otherwise you’re a public school that charges tuition. By focusing on being a Lutheran Christian school, by focusing on being a classical school, we’re very unique.”
Only a few schools in the state still teach a classical method, Cain said. It can take time for students to adjust to the learning style if they don’t start with it in kindergarten.
But Cain strongly believes in the classical method’s effectiveness.
“With grammar, logic and rhetoric, you’re teaching children the way that they grow developmentally,” Cain said. “When they’re sponges and hungry for knowledge, you fill their heads with facts and stories and names and dates and places … Then when they start asking questions themselves, you help them find answers and help them connect things that little kids don’t see as connected.”
The private schools base their teachings on a specific faith but accept students of all types of religious backgrounds. Legler said about half of Holy Name’s students are not Catholic, and Cain said not all MLGS students are Lutheran.
Despite different teaching styles, the two schools have similar end goals. Cain wants MLGS students to become winsome advocates for truth in whatever career they pursue.
“We’d like to have students that, as adults, are servant leaders, for both the church and for the world,” Cain said.
Leach wants Holy Name students to grow into individuals who have a clear sense of right and wrong and make choices based on that sense.
Legler agreed before adding the core component that Holy Name teachers try to foster in students.
“The most important idea that we want to get across to the kids at this age is that Jesus loves them, and there is nothing that they could do to separate his love for them,” Legler said. “I think that’s very important as kids grow up and their self-esteem fluctuates, that they know they’re rooted in Christ.”