Mix of parochial, Montessori elementaries offer alternatives to public education

In addition to Columbus Christian School, four other private elementary schools with 100 students or more serve the Columbus/Bartholomew County area, with each school offering a different approach to elementary education.

Here is a round-up of what the leaders of each of the private elementary schools see as their greatest strengths.

St. Bartholomew Catholic School

Enrollment at St. Bartholomew Catholic School has been on the rise for the past four years — with 375 students enrolled so far this year — a fact that principal Helen Heckman attributes, in part, to the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

The Catholic school on 27th Street had the highest percentage of students in Bartholomew County passing both the math and English/language arts portions of the ISTEP+ exam in both 2014 and 2015. Additionally, St. Bartholomew was the only school in the county to be named a four-star school by the Indiana Department of Education in 2015.

The average level of experience for teachers at St. Bartholomew’s is at least 10 years, and that experience is one of the key factor behind the school’s academic successes, Heckman said. All teachers go through routine professional development activities to hone their craft, which helps the school create a stronger academic environment, the principal said.

Aside from academics, Heckman said more families are being drawn to St. Bartholomew because of its dedication to the Catholic faith.

The entire school prays together four times a day, on top of a weekly mass and religious education classes. Many St. Bartholomew students also are members of the St. Bartholomew parish, which creates a strong sense of community throughout the school, Heckman said.

But the school is not limited to only those of the Catholic faith, the principal said. Roughly 10 percent of St. Bartholomew students are not Catholic, but still chose to enroll in the school to take advantage of the small community setting that also offers a strong academic program, she said.

St. Peter’s Lutheran School

Although it is a private parochial school, one of the greatest strengths of St. Peter’s Lutheran School is its partnerships with the local public school district, principal Scott Schumacher said.

In addition to some shared sports programs, Schumacher said he has a positive working relationship with district and individual school leaders in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., and those relationships enhance the learning experience for students both at his school and in the public schools.

Schumacher said he doesn’t try to compare his school as better or worse than BCSC schools, but instead said he views his educational philosophy as inherently different because of St. Peter’s focus on teaching Christian principles.

From daily discipleship time to the Friday chapel services, Schumacher said his students learn something about the Christian faith every day. Although there are other parochial schools available throughout the city, the principal said he thinks his school fits well into its niche of combining statewide academic standards with the teachings of the Lutheran faith.

St. Peter’s enrollment of 438 students this fall is 26 students more than last year, and Schumacher said part of that gain comes from parents seeking a quality Christian education for their children and finding that at St. Peter’s.

Additionally, the Lutheran principal said his school offers a quality education for a good price. Tuition at St. Peter’s is $6,500, but with financial aid options such as the state voucher program and private donations from the St. Peter’s congregation, only about 10 percent of St. Peter’s students are required to pay the full tuition price.

White Creek Lutheran School

A family atmosphere greets all students who walk through the doors of White Creek Lutheran School, principal Jan Buss said.

With 128 kindergarten through eighth grade students enrolled this year — a normal student count for the school — students at White Creek Lutheran are made to feel like they all belong together as a school family, Buss said.

But it’s not just the students who matter — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other important figures in students’ lives are encouraged to have an active role with the school in order to create a true family atmosphere, she said.

Creating a sense of family aligns with the school’s Christian principles, as all students are taught that they are children of God, the principal said. That tenet of the Christian faith, as well as the concept of God’s grace and forgiveness, are the cornerstones of the school’s education philosophy, she said.

While students at White Creek Lutheran learn all the state standards that students in public schools would learn, Buss said being a Christian school allows her and her staff to teach those standards in the context of the Christian faith.

And now that the school has become a participant in the state school voucher program this year, Buss said she is looking forward to being able to share that educational philosophy with more students who could now be financially able to become apart of the White Creek Lutheran family.

ABC Stewart School

Unlike the other private elementary schools available in the Columbus area, the ABC Stewart School does not have ties to a religious institution. Instead, the prekindergarten through sixth-grade school of 200 students is built on the Montessori Method, which school director Mike Gorday described as a focus on a prepared educational environment.

To create a prepared educational environment, teachers must come to school with learning materials that appeal to a variety learning styles and abilities, Gorday said. Through the guidance of a teacher, a student can use that variety to take control of their own education by self-selecting the learning styles that best meet their individual needs while helping them progress at their own rates, he said.

Additionally, ABC Stewart encourages its students to help each other through the learning process, a practice the school views as a development of teamwork skills, the school director said.

Rather than following standard curriculum practices, Gorday said ABC Stewart uses a three-year rotating curriculum that picks one particular focus area each year. This year the focus is on American history, so the school year will culminate in a field trip to Washington, D.C. this spring, he said.

And with educational and extracurricular activities available to students from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Gorday said his school’s schedule is designed to meet the needs and schedules of working parents.

About the schools

St. Bartholomew Catholic School

Address: 1306 27th St., Columbus

Phone: 812-379-9353

Grades: K-8

Fall 2016 enrollment: 375

Tuition (for first child): $4,050/year for parish members, $6,150/year for non-members

Scholarships/financial aid: School vouchers accepted, other scholarships offered

St. Peter’s Lutheran School

Address: 719 Fifth St., Columbus

Phone: 812-372-5266

Grades: K-8

Fall 2016 enrollment: 438 students

Tuition: $6,500/year

Scholarships/financial aid: School vouchers accepted, congregational donations financial aid offered

White Creek Lutheran School

Address: 16270 S 300 West, Columbus

Phone: 812-342-6832

Grades: K-8

Fall 2016 enrollment: 128 students

Tuition: Kindergarten – $2,150/year for St. John’s members, $2,350 for non-members; grades 1-8 – $4,200/year

Scholarships/financial aid: School vouchers accepted, other in-house scholarships offered

ABC Stewart School

Address: 6691 State Road 46 West, Columbus

Phone: 812-342-3029

Grades: 2 years old – 6th grade

Fall 2016 enrollment: 200 students

Tuition: Grades 1-6 – $6,500/year; 2 years old – kindergarten – varies depending on program

Scholarships/financial aid: Offered, but not currently available

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.