150 years of faith and education in St. Peter

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Mar. 24—With just 65 students, six teachers and one paraprofessional at St. Peter's Lutheran School and Little Saints Preschool, one might be surprised to learn what a huge part of the small community of St. Peter the school truly is.

Over the course of more than 150 years of educating students since the school first opened its doors in 1872, St. Peter's Lutheran School and Little Saints Preschool's size and family environment has proven to be a unique strength.

The school and its day care are located in a single story building that sits directly beside St. Peter's Church in the small town of St. Peter.

The school has taught students for generations, and just last year, it celebrated its 150th anniversary, bringing back memories for many, some of whom now have children of their own learning in the same classrooms in which they were taught decades ago.

To celebrate the historic milestone, the school organized a number of special events throughout the 2021-22 school year.

"We tried to do different things every month," St. Peter's Lutheran School and Little Saints Preschool Principal Dr. Larry Wooster said.

Wooster, who teaches 7th and 8th grade students in addition to being the schools' principle for the past 2 years, said the 150th anniversary celebration included live performances from Jennie Williamson, a Christian recording artist.

"We brought in a Nashville Christian singer, and she put a concert on one afternoon for the kids and then in the evening," he said. "We're hoping to bring her back, maybe even this fall."

In June of 2022, at the end of the school year, the school held an "all school" reunion which brought former students as well as former staff members back to the school for the first time in years.

"We had a day where we had a former principal come back and talk about what it was like when he was here," Wooster said. "And then his last class that was here, they all came."

Wooster said the reunion included games and activities that were popular with students 50 years ago.

"Every morning, all the kids in the school would line up and do these jumping exercises all together at the same time to this song," he said of the former students.

Wooster admitted he was shocked to learn that many of the former students still knew the song as well as the exercise.

"They found a recording and played it, and those people did it!" he said.

Over the past 150 years, a lot at St. Peter's Lutheran School has changed, but the values and the mission that lie at the heart of the school remain to this day.

Wooster explained that it was very common at the time for Lutheran churches like St Peter's Church to establish their own schools.

"Luther pushed really hard for education," Wooster said of Martin Luther. "For the Lutherans in this country, and especially the ones in the Midwest, they believed if you had a church you had to have a school."

Wooster believes the church, which was established two years prior to the school, is still one of the primary reasons why the school still exists today.

"If you look at it now, for a church the size of St. Peter and the cost that it is, statistically, we should not be able to keep this school running," he said. "But the people are so dedicated, and they are so convinced of the value of it that our tuition is quite low, and our church over there is a paying a lot to keep these people open."

Wooster praised the school's staff and said the school's strong academics are largely a result of the school's teachers.

"We have phenomenal teachers who work their tails off and are very well trained and have a lot of great experience," he said.

Throughout the years, the school has never strayed from the Christian faith and values on which it was founded.

"We say that Jesus is in every class every day," Wooster said. "Everything we do revolves around our Christian faith."

The school has proven to be quite strong academically, especially when considering its small size.

"Our academics will hold with anybody," Wooster said.

According to Wooster, students at the school perform within the national average in their lowest subject and are in the 85th percentile for their highest subject.

Wooster said one of the school's strengths is its small size which is what Wooster says allows for the family environment that sets it apart from other schools.

"Most of the kids have been here from preschool through 8th grade, so they're like brothers and sisters," he said. "They look out for each other."

He said he often sees kindergartners running up to 8th graders to ask for hugs and to be carried on their shoulders.

Not only are teachers at the school more familiar with their students than some teachers at larger schools, they are also able to communicate well with parents who see Wooster just about every day when they drop off and pick up their children at the school.

"When you're in a larger school, that's trickier," Wooster said.

Wooster said most people from outside of St. Peter who know of the schools do so because of a festival called Prairie Days that the school takes part in.

Wooster said the event brings roughly 10,000 people from all over the area to the town every year in August.

Prairie Days includes food tents, sand volleyball, bingo and what Wooster calls an "old time, small town parade."

"It's just a chance for people to come from all around the area and have a celebration," he said.

Wooster said another exciting time for students at the school is the annual FFA Week, particularly the day when students from South Central High School drive their tractors to school.

"They swing over here because a lot of them came to our school," he said.

"We have a really good relationship with South Central."

The school's next big event is a musical in May and is titled "Are We There Yet?"

"It's based on Moses and the children on Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years," Wooster said.

Additionally, the school is holding an open house Monday, March 27, for parents looking to learn more about the school.

Nick Taylor can be reached at nick.taylor@effinghamdailynews.com

or by phone at 618-510-9226 or 217-347-7151 ext. 300132.