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ALHS Online starts 10th year of online education

This fall, ALHS Online (Association of Lutheran High Schools Online) entered its 10th year of offering online classes.

ALHS Online started as a collaborative effort of the WELS Association of Lutheran High Schools to offer high quality online courses to expand the course offerings of WELS high schools. Enrollment and class offerings have increased every year, from an average of 30 students per semester and 5 courses in the 2011-12 school year to more than 300 students and 28 courses per semester in the 2020-21 school year.

These courses provide supplemental educational opportunities for students, especially from WELS’ smaller high schools. Ms. Micayla Bork, a sophomore at Wisconsin Lutheran College, took several courses through ALHS Online that were not offered at her high school, Apostles Lutheran High School, San Jose, Calif. “What I appreciated most about these courses are the important life skills they taught me,” she says. “Not only did I learn the material, but I learned how to be successful in an online class. Overall, they really prepared me for college.”

Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School (MVL), New Ulm, Minn., is the largest yearly user of the program, with between 40 and 50 students a semester taking online courses. “The teachers from ALHS Online really go above and beyond to try to meet the needs of the kids,” says Dr. Tim Plath, MVL principal and also one of the founding members of ALHS Online. Besides paying for the classes for its students, MVL provides time during the school day for online learning. Plath says students take a variety of the courses offered, with AP Psychology and AP U.S. History being especially popular.

Since its inception, ALHS Online also has added math and foreign language courses for seventh and eighth grade students (students from 32 Lutheran elementary schools are taking courses this year) and a four-year high school religion curriculum.

ALHS Online was recently accredited by the Middle States Association as a learning service provider. Dr. James Grunwald, superintendent of ALHS Online, says that besides being a good peer review for the organization, accreditation “gives the parents of the students who we work with the assurance that we have high quality teachers and educational programs.”

Learn more at alhso.org.

 

 

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New school year brings difficult decisions

WELS schools around the country were faced with the difficult job this summer of determining what school is going to look like in the fall, after the 2019–20 school year ended with online classes because of shutdowns due to the pandemic.

With 436 WELS schools serving over 42,000 students in 33 states—some with minimal numbers of COVID-19 cases and some considered “hot spots”—plans will differ across the country. But one thing is sure: “Sept. 1, 2020, is going to look different than Sept. 1, 2019, in every single one of our schools,” says Mr. James Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools (CLS).

While each plan will look different—with schools talking about in-person vs. virtual learning (or a combination of the two), face coverings, size of classes, social distancing, extracurriculars, disinfecting stations, and additional cleaning—Rademan says that the mindset he has seen from WELS schools as they determine how to proceed is remarkably similar: “Each one of the schools is really concerned about the safety of their students and their staff while trying to balance what is going to be best overall for the development of the children.”

Most WELS schools—including Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School (KML), Jackson, Wis. and Arizona Lutheran Academy (ALA), Phoenix, Ariz.—are planning to start the year meeting face-to-face at school. “Christian education is way more than just teaching in the classrooms,” says Mr. Jamie Luehring, principal at Kettle Moraine. “It’s the interactions the teachers have with the students, the mentorships, the friendships, the support. You cannot do that as well virtually no matter how hard you try.”

That decision to start with in-person classes was not made in a vacuum. For both schools, it meant sending out a survey to parents and meeting with teachers during the summer to get opinions on the best options moving forward. “We believe parents need to be in the driver’s seat,” says Luehring. “We want to work with them to come up with the best solutions for their kids.”

But the collaboration went even further. Mr. Kurt Rosenbaum, principal at ALA, said that when their school’s task force began meeting in June, they looked closely at recommendations for reopening sent out by the Arizona Department of Education. He is in constant contact with the local health department to keep up with the latest health regulations. Representatives from all 26 WELS area Lutheran high schools and the two synod prep schools also met virtually multiple times this summer to offer ideas, support, encouragement, and prayers for one another as they determined the best plans for their schools.

For both ALA and KML, the majority of the parents supported in-person classes, “but we knew that there would be some families who would want to start slowly,” says Rosenbaum. To support those students and families, both schools are offering online classes as well. “We’re trying to be all things for all people,” says Luehring. “We understand everyone is in a different situation and we don’t want to lose those kids for the sake of the gospel.” Online classes will also offer an option for international students who may not be able to get back to campuses for the start of the school year.

“There are so many people with differing opinions; there needs to be a loving response to one another,” says Luehring. “As a loving Christian family, we are going to try to work through this together.”

In the end, “flexibility” may be the key word. “Most schools are developing two or three plans and are recognizing the need to be able to pivot based on the circumstances,” says Rademan. The Commission on Lutheran Schools is offering support, encouragement, and direction to WELS schools, while not prescribing any one direction. “We are encouraging them to follow CDC and local health department guidelines and to work with the resources in their community and the schools that are in close proximity to them,” says Rademan.

Some schools in “hot spot” locations—such as southern California—may have no choice but to start virtually. “You can plan and plan and plan, but you don’t know what will happen three days before school starts,” says Rademan. “It’s a time to use the gifts the Lord has given us and trust in the Lord. The path is going to be the path he’s seeking for us to take at this time.”

Available resources from CLS can be found at cls.welsrc.net/

 

CLS partners with Christian Family Solutions

With anxiety and other mental health issues on the rise during the pandemic, the Commission on Lutheran Schools is working closely with Christian Family Solutions to offer resources, support, and counseling to teachers and students. Webinars and other materials will look to help teachers deal with their own anxiety as well as the anxiety they will see in students and parents. Christian Family Solutions also works with many WELS schools to offer tele-health counseling for students struggling with mental health needs.

 

 

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New task force focuses on special education

A new 20-member Special Education Task Force has been formed to provide special education resources and support to teachers and students.

“Our goal is to lay out a common, reliable, and researched path for identifying and supporting learners who struggle in academics and behavior,” says Ms. Kelli Green, a special education professor at Martin Luther College (MLC). “How do we support these children as well as provide school leaders and teachers with the support systems they need to offer this assistance?”

The task force will be researching the special education services already happening in WELS schools as well as the needs. It will also be exploring how to educate current students as well as administrators and teachers already in WELS schools about the resources available to help those with special needs, including ways to collaborate with one another and with public schools.

“We’re looking at how we can provide more support to our schools so more kids can hear the gospel at our schools on a daily basis,” says Mr. James Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools.

The group includes representatives from the Commission on Lutheran Schools, MLC, Wisconsin Lutheran College, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Bethany Lutheran College, Jesus Cares Ministries, and Christian Educators for Special Education, along with special education teachers from WELS area Lutheran high schools and Lutheran elementary schools.

Currently MLC offers two special education programs. Undergraduates can receive an Academic and Behavioral Specialist (ABS) Minnesota state teaching licensure, and graduates can return to pursue a master of science in education with a special education emphasis. Seventeen students are in the undergraduate program, and 12 are in the master’s program. MLC is working on adding a master of special education in learning disabilities.

Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wis., offers special education undergraduate and master’s degree majors resulting in cross-categorical special education licensure. Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn., also offers an ABS undergraduate major as well as a post-baccalaureate program for ABS licensure.

For more information about the task force, contact James Rademan, director of WELS Lutheran Schools, at jim.rademan@wels.net.

First WELS EdTechLead conference to be held

The 2019 WELS Education, Technology, and Leadership Summit (WELS EdTechLead) will be held June 25–27 at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

This new event combines the National School Leadership and the WELSTech conferences into one expanded convention. It offers information and fellowship to those interested in exploring ministry tools, techniques, and best practices in the areas of education, technology, and leadership.

Created to be more sensitive to the time and funds of those who may have been interested in attending both conferences, WELS EdTechLead also aims to draw a broader audience than either conference might be able to alone.

“I think the conference really is for almost anybody in ministry,” said Mr. Martin Spriggs, WELS chief technology officer. “It’s an opportunity to help everyone put a bit more brainpower and a bit more passion into their efforts. It just makes sense to share that knowledge and energy and come up with better ministry plans and strategies together.”

The speakers and sessions offered at WELS EdTechLead are not simply related to one of the three topics of education, technology, and leadership. Many demonstrate the intersections between the topics. For example, teachers will be able to learn about instructional technology at the conference, and school principals and early childhood directors will have opportunities to develop their leadership skills.

The schedule is organized to allow attendees to experience a variety of workshops from each of the three fields. Half-day and full-day preconference sessions are also available to allow visitors to dive deeply into a specific subject.

“It’s to strengthen the network of support we have with one another in ministry,” said Mr. Jim Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools. “You are going to learn some tips and some tools, but, in many ways, this conference is to inspire you to move forward in your ministry.”

Registration for WELS EdTechLead is now open, with early bird discounts through May 1. Visit welsedtechlead.com to learn more and register.