Differentiation key at Lutheran Unity Elementary School
Lutheran Unity School West Campus varsity player Jordan Idak bumps during warmups before their girls volleyball game against Park Ridge's St. Andrews Lutheran School at Norwood Park. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2012 6:17AM
CHICAGO — Providing a family environment in an educational setting is a key component for Lutheran Unity School.
The school, which has campuses in Chicago and Norwood Park, offers what Principal Jo Ellen Hoffmann calls differentiated instruction, which allows students to learn according to their strengths.
“Take, for example, addition,” she said. “Some students are only spatial, some visual, some hands on.
“We in the Lutheran system have been aware of that for years,” she said. “Now it has a name.”
That technique has earned Lutheran schools top marks in academic achievement from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a project since 1969 of the National Center for Educational Services.
Hoffmann credited small class sizes and parental involvement, along with “a great staff,” for helping students reach their potential.
“We hold our kids to higher standards,” Hoffmann said. “We help them grow to the next step.
“Some may not achieve those standards, but they still grow,” she added.
Teacher Mikki Wo grew up in the Lutheran education system. She emphasized the benefits of smaller classrooms and a family atmosphere.
“We know the kids, we know the parents,” she said. “There’s a sense of camaraderie, closeness.”
This allows teachers to focus on student needs, and allows parents to be more connected to the education of their children, she said.
Debra Townsend is assistant principal and an eighth grade teacher at the Norwood Park campus.
“In a small school, you get to know students,” she said. “Families are more involved.
“Students know the teachers and teachers know the students, and their families.”
Lutheran Unity, which serves pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students, is a consolidation of schools from Congregations Messiah, Our Saviour, St. Paul and Jehovah. The four pastors share Christian education duties.
Hoffmann noted kindergarten teachers use technology such as interactive smart boards in their classes. The school offers tutoring in math and reading, and participates in the national lunch program.
“We have the extra stuff such as before- and after-care,” Hoffman said. “We have art, band and choir, which is a big thing.
“But we also have cross county, volleyball, basketball and track.”
The schools support Boy and Girl Scouts and a yearbook staff.
“And we attend camp in Kingston, where students and teachers go for outdoor education; sports such as archery; and stargazing,” Hoffman said.
The bond that forms between teacher and student continues beyond graduation. One of Townsend’s is coming back to student teach.
“I have the opportunity once again to mentor a student, but this time it’s in a professional setting,” she said.