Trinity Lutheran Church and School, Hoffman, Illinois is located 60 miles southeast of St Louis in a rural area of Southern Illinois. The school has served its congregation and community for 139 years. Roger Sprengel (SID Education Executive and I were warmly welcomed by principal, Steve Burger and a veteran staff of (6) dedicated Lutheran teachers.
This school serves 74 students enrolled in preschool through grade 8. Principal Burger reported that Trinity’s enrollment has increased by 10% in the past year. Despite that fact, enrollment continues to be an ongoing challenge for the school. A decreasing number of young families live in the area and the birth rate among Lutheran families has declined. This has created a reduced number of potential school-age children living within a reasonable commuting distance from the school. The demographic conditions in place in the community surrounding Trinity is similar to those faced by many of our schools located in rural areas of our country.
Trinity functions with 4 classrooms and two grade levels in each classroom except kindergarten which is self-contained. Teachers exhibited skills at effectively engaging all students in learning activities regardless of grade level. Technology integration made this possible. Students interacted appropriately in classrooms we visited and helped one another to accomplish assignments and tasks efficiently.
Our time visiting this school was well spent. We observed highly skilled Lutheran teachers actively engaging students in well-managed classrooms activities. Technology was being used in a variety of ways in every classroom. A rigorous, yet appropriate course of study challenged students. Students were engaged and excited about learning and eager to share what they were learning with their guests and one another.
What’s special about this school? Trinity is a small school that is having a large and dramatic impact on the students it serves. This results from ongoing efforts of team of dedicated Lutheran teachers. In itself, that is not unusual in Lutheran schools. What sets Trinity apart is the manner in which this staff is committed to serving students well through the intentional integration of technology in the school learning environment.
Technology efforts in the school are organized and led by two very passionate teacher leaders who have established a well-defined plan. Cynthia Spenner and Beth Boester have established and clearly defined technology standards for their school. The school-wide plan establishing goals involves all classrooms and grade levels in the following areas:
- Creativity and innovation
- Communication and collaboration
- Research and information fluen
- Critical thinking, problem solving and decision making
- Digital citizenship
- Technology operations and concepts
The goals are enacted through a variety of specific activities that were easily observed as we made our visits to classroom. Cynthia and Beth live and breathe technology. Each year they attend the Illinois educational technology conference where they learn new ways to engage students through the use of technology. They work in tandem to create awareness in the other teachers and serve as inspirational leaders supporting the work of their teammates.
The fact that the school provides an amazing array of technology tools and a strong network that empowers their work could not have been accomplished without the efforts of a highly organized parent support group. This group of dedicated parents cheers the efforts of the teachers and provides the funding ($10K per year) that allow this small school to have a dynamic electronic footprint.
This school has purchased a variety of devices (classroom smart boards, KI-pads for K-2 students, surface tablets for all students grades 3-8. Everyone (principal, all teachers, parents, congregation) is on board with the plan. There is a strong commitment by parents to embrace and financially support ($10K per year) technology enhanced instruction in this school. Students are the beneficiaries of these initiatives.
What we can learn from Trinity
- Any project requires committed leadership and ongoing support. The integration of technology in small schools can be heavily influenced by passionate teacher leaders who provide ongoing support for co-workers. Momentum for change grows among co-workers when they are provided ongoing support from patient project leaders who care.
- The smaller the group of teachers – the easier it is to build consensus. A school with double grades in classrooms can quickly adopt and implement change after the group has reached consensus about the benefits of the project.
- Small schools can implement a significant technology transformation efficiently and effectively. Less money is required because fewer students are involved. There will be a significant initial investment regarding infrastructure and hardware but there is great support when the case is made by passionate leaders and embraced by school stakeholders.
- Trinity Lutheran School in Hoffman, IL illustrates the fact that small Lutheran schools can provide dynamic Christ-centered education for students. Small schools are an amazing blessing to the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Teachers serving in Lutheran schools with less than 100 students should be grateful to God for the opportunity.
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