The last time students were officially in class at St. John Lutheran School in Redwood Falls was more than five months ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of the school in March, and the final several weeks of the school year were conducted via distance learning.

To say that the staff at the local Christian school is ready for students to return would be an understatement, said Todd Brassow, St. John school principal.

“We are all excited to have them back,” said Brassow this past Monday morning – one week before the start of the new year.

St. John students in preschool through the eighth grade are set to begin the 2020-21 school year this coming Monday (Aug. 31).

According to Brassow, the school year is starting with in-person education for all 150 students who are enrolled at the school.

Of course, there are a few rules that will be in place to ensure everyone is school is safe.

The first is that all students, staff and any visitors who are at the school are being required to wear some sort of face covering. For most of the students, that will mean wearing a mask. 

Brassow indicated a number of other safety measures will be in place, adding the school has hired an extra person to help with the cleaning and sanitizing.

According to Brassow, because the school has smaller numbers, its board felt that it was safe and practical to open with in-person education this year.

When the year begins next week, the students will see the same staff as was part of the district last year. Brassow said there has been no turnover heading into the 2020-21 year.

“It will be nice to have that continuity,” said Brassow.

For Brassow just having the kids in the school will be great, adding he believes the students will benefit socially, educationally and spiritually by being in person.

There will be some modifications to the school year, as the music program will be offered differently. Brassow said that students will be playing the ukulele this year, and even though vocal music will still be part of the program it is going to be more limited.

The band class will be expanded into a larger space, he said, adding that chapel time, which is still open to families (with proper face coverings), will be held in the gym to allow for more space.

The volleyball program will not be available this fall, said Brassow, but the school does plan to offer a sand volleyball club in the community to continue to develop skills and have some fun.

Soccer, because it is outside, will be available, and Brassow said the school is looking for other schools to play against.

The goal is to keep the school year as close to normal as is possible.

Brassow wanted to express his thanks to the families as the plans for the new year have unfolded. He indicated that they have all been extremely flexible and understanding.

The theme verse of the school year is Jeremiah 29:11 which says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Brassow said the new eighth-grade class selected that verse this past school year. He agreed that it certainly is appropriate as the new school year begins.

The Partners in Education program is hosting an outdoor family movie night Sept. 3. The movie is scheduled to start at dusk (around 8 p.m.) Concessions will be available.

Additional information can be found on the St. John School Web site at sjschool.org/.

While much of the emphasis of the end of the 2019-20 school year was centered on COVID-19, there were some successes as well.

During the previous school year, St. John school was able to conduct what is known as the NWEA assessment. The test was administered to students in Grades 2-8 twice last year.

The NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) tests more than 400,000 students each year in reading, writing and math.

According to Brassow, “in a normal year, we have the students test three times so that the teachers can see measured progress and have time to adjust to the learning needs of the students. We have students test in the fall, winter and spring.”

What follows are the results:

• More than 70 percent of the students are above the national average and almost 50 percent of all students are in the high average.

• 82 percent of students scored above the national average in math

• 70 percent of students scored above the national average in reading

• 73 percent of students scored above the national average in language usage

• 54 percent of students scored high average in national math

• 47 percent of students scored high average in national reading

• 44 percent of students scored high average in national language usage

“Our focus as a faculty will be making sure the students are on track when they come back in the fall. Education experts believe that students will need extra support this fall due to COVID-19, and we are prioritizing this at St. John,” added Brassow.