Local private school gets creative
By Kana Coonce
KEWAUNEE – When she first began teaching fifth grade at Holy Rosary School in Kewaunee, Jenny Schlies didn’t expect to remain longer than “a year or two.”
Now teaching a combined class of fifth- and sixth-graders and running the student council, Schlies has been at the school for 17 years.
“I really [fell in love with it],” she said, citing the smaller class sizes that come with having a smaller school — roughly 20 kids per mixed-age class, with a total population of around 90 — and the warm community that comes with it.
“The families are what make it truly special,” Schlies said. “There are coworkers — teachers — who have been there a lot of years, too, so they’re like a family, too.”
Though age groups were once separated into eight classes, the national teacher shortage meant that the staff at Holy Rosary had to get creative.
Now, single-grade levels are combined into larger classes: first and second grade makes up one class; then, thirrd and fourth grade; fifth and sixth grade; and seventh and eighth grade. Though Schlies admitted that she originally didn’t expect this model to work, the mixed system has created a unique environment for its students.
“When the fifth graders come in, the sixth graders are like hens to them,” she said.
She’s noticed that the older students seem to take their duties as role models for the younger students very seriously — even for her own children, who recently enrolled in the Pre-K program.
“What was really awesome was the older kids play with the younger kids. They look out for them. It’s like an extra set of eyes on them,” she added.
Holy Rosary was founded in 1871 under the leadership of Father George Brunner with the mission of “providing a faith-filled learning community infused with Gospel values and Catholic tradition,” to “prepare students to succeed in future academic endeavors and to witness their Christian faith in their families, community and world,” according to the Holy Rosary website.
And, today, grade structure isn’t the only place that the school is getting creative.
This coming fall, Schlies looks forward to “hopefully” putting on Trunk-or-Treat, a school-based Trick-or-Treating event where students collect candy from various decorated car trunks around a parking lot.
This is one of many events that Schlies loves putting on at the school, along with Cookies for Courage, “where [students and staff] make cookies and invite local law enforcement in as appreciation,” and Breakfast for Veterans, where “vets come in and the student council cooks breakfast.”
Though enrollment has declined since Holy Rosary’s founding, Schlies isn’t too worried.
“I think there are always concerns,” she said. “I was there when we were down to 50 kids. I think there’s always going to be that support of the parish and the community. We’ve had hardships before, but… the concern right now is the teacher shortage.”
Schlies added that a deacon and his wife once worked at the school, and the wife would say, “‘The Holy Spirit will provide.’ Luckily, we’ve been doing okay.”