Our Shepherd Lutheran School
9201 E. County Road 100 North
Writer / Jamie Hergott Photography Provided
Hendricks County is known for excellent schools, but often the smaller, private schools get overlooked. Our Shepherd Lutheran School in Avon is one of those, and Principal Amy Hedges urges folks to take a closer look at what makes them special.
The school began as an offshoot of the church 27 years ago. What started as an early childhood program has been built up over the years to include kindergarten through eighth grade.
“We have grown from a developmental-type preschool to a very intentional program to help students get a good step forward going into kindergarten and the upper grades,” Hedges says.
Kids come to Our Shepherd from all over central Indiana, including Greenwood, Zionsville, Monrovia and even downtown Indianapolis. Once kids get to eighth grade, they disperse to about as many places as they came from.
“They aren’t necessarily going into Christian high schools,” Hedges says. “When they leave here, they’re heading off to between 10 to 12 different high schools. It’s neat to see, from a missional standpoint, these kids spreading their wings and doing well.”
Some may wonder if students at a smaller school are equipped for bigger high schools. The largest class size is 16, the smallest is nine, and the Early Childhood teacher-to-child ratio is nine to one. Our Shepherd’s Early Childhood Director Tracie Douglas insists that the school’s small size and flexible curriculum do more than prepare students – they help to build confidence in relationships and life.
“Even as a small school, our diversity of needs is great,” Hedges says. “We do use curriculum as a base, but we also encourage our teachers to pull from whatever they need to serve their particular class.”
There’s a new initiative among Lutheran schools that involves working to develop their own curriculum. Teachers can share a curriculum map developed by teachers for teachers, which allows them to pool resources and learn the best practices and resources that benefit children most.
What makes Our Shepherd’s Early Childhood program different, according to Douglas, is the intersection of curricular activities and the children’s interests. Each year looks different based on what children are interested in.
“We adapt our topics of study to the children’s interest and questions,” Douglas says. “We truly believe they are strong and capable learners. Their questions have value and worth, and they’re worth investigating. Based on what we know about current brain research for young children, it meets their needs.”
This ever-changing approach doesn’t keep the school from closely following state educational standards. The staff members have actually found that their flexibility in curriculum and approaches has served them well, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Dynamics change with students coming and going each year,” Hedges says. “COVID-19 is a great example. Our teachers are already used to looking for curriculum and instructional items that benefit our children. We already use that approach to help us better meet the needs of our classes.”
State standards and curriculums aside, the school’s mantra is, “Be known.”
Tomi Mattick, the school’s admissions coordinator, sees this mantra in every area of educational, social, and emotional growth and health of the students.
“They are known and loved by God,” Mattick says. “They are also known and loved by our staff and faculty. That is what makes this place so special. They’re all known by each other. They cultivate an empathy and a love for each other in their classroom.”
The classroom replicates a family unit, putting students in smaller groups so they often can get assistance from their peers without teacher intervention.
“This builds so much confidence in them,” Douglas says. “They can think, ‘OK, I can do this and help someone else with it,’ which in turn develops their skills even more.”
The school banks on this relational aspect to produce mature students who are ready for high school and beyond. It cultivates an atmosphere where students are not afraid to approach teachers with problems and questions, thus building their confidence in seeking solutions and talking to adults.
“I’ve been in public and private schools,” Hedges says. “One thing that sets our teachers apart is they emphasize the importance of handling life, even in the midst of academics. We talk about grace, forgiveness and hard things. We can slow down and deal with issues. The teachers have the freedom to do that.”
These valuable discussions can help lead to well-rounded growth in children, beyond just academics.
“Because we have those conversations, students can come to us as teachers and mentors,” Hedges says. “Students come here knowing their teacher is not their enemy. They learn not to be timid. That’s a great life skill.”
Area high schools love getting students from Our Shepherd, according to Mattick. One local high school has a peer counseling group. These students are exemplary peers who reach out to other students in need. At one time, half of these peer counselors came from Our Shepherd.
“It really shows that character and leadership come from this place,” Mattick says.
Our Shepherd Early Childhood faculty members also take pride in their partnership with parents. Teachers and staff update a daily blog with photos and explanations of what students are doing and why, educational articles and resources, and also send a weekly note home about each child’s development.
“Part of our job is to help them be the best parents they can be,” Douglas says. “We hook arms with them and walk alongside them, so each child gets his own unique path in education.”
Despite the school’s size, Our Shepherd still offers sports and field trips. The school leaders also take their place in the community seriously and encourage students to look outward. They’ve partnered with Family Promise to help with the organization’s food pantry. Last November students collected items for Thanksgiving boxes, built the boxes, packed them, stacked them and made cards. The group of 150 kids donated 670 items in a span of nine days, and 43 local families were served by the boxes. Helping with the food pantry is a year-round endeavor for students.
“We love seeing the Lord’s work in these kids,” Hedges says. “To be around for everyday miracles, like seeing a kid go from sullen and unhappy to smiling every day – seeing those little bits of growth is truly amazing.”
Open enrollment begins January 16 for the 2021-2022 school year. Tours and shadow opportunities are available. Contact Tomi Mattick at email@example.com.