Sierra Lutheran High School is celebrating a record enrollment and an anticipated expansion of its facility this year during the kickoff of its 20th anniversary celebration with its 2021-22 school year.
Executive Director Brian Underwood shared 138 students were registered for classes and had returned back to school Friday, when students spent part of their first day back in small discipleship groups, getting to know their teachers and peers, learning about the various classes they might be taking or hearing about the programs and services they might have at their disposal.
“We’ve had some neat events, an ice cream social event open to everyone … we’re on track to break ground in the spring on our addition,” Underwood said of immediate and future activities to come. “We’re looking at a celebration event later this fall.”
The school, founded in 2002, represents more than 20 church denominations and offers a variety of co-curricular activities, arts and sports. The school partners with association churches, alumni and families for support.
This year, approximately 35% of students are new to the campus, Underwood said, an indicator that families are seeking an alternative option for education, particularly the students themselves.
“People recognize the reputation the school has developed, the innovation that they see, the progressive in terms of construction and advancement, but more than anything, the reputation in terms of the nurturing environment has allowed the school to become known for,” he said.
Students attending the school say the “family” aspect of the learning environment is one of the school’s strengths and key reasons they choose SLHS over public schools.
“The smaller environment really helps,” junior Mikaela Christenson said. “Each teacher, I feel, has a better relationship with each individual student. I have a good relationship with my teachers. I feel like I can have a conversation with them. I feel like I can learn a lot better from them.”
Christenson said she looks forward to taking her elective courses this year, including home economics, where she’ll focus on sewing and cooking skills since Sierra Lutheran wasn’t able to offer similar courses last year due to the pandemic. Christenson said for now, she’s considering pursuing the medical field when she goes to college, but for now, she recommends to other students that attending a school like Sierra Lutheran opens doors to community involvement.
“You get to know everyone and you know all the teachers,” she said. “So it really enriches the entire high school experience for students in a way that larger schools just can’t offer because of their size.”
Junior Maximus Thomas, student body vice president, is striving to increase engagement to promote the school’s sports teams and pep rallies with the hope that the school is turning a corner after COVID-19. He was also involved with track as a pole vaulter in his free time.
“It’s all about morale, it’s all about keeping people’s spirits high,” he said. “When people feel good, they learn well. And so, I feel like the higher I can get their happiness level, I guess, the better they will perform in their classes, and I don’t know how we’re going to do that yet, but I want to figure out how we’re going to do that.”
Thomas said he, too, enjoys that the school is small enough that he could get to know everyone well enough to get the help he needs from teachers or friends.
“It was really inclusive,” he said.
Underwood said Sierra Lutheran this year will begin offering students a means to keep up on their academics through the year via a new on-demand tutoring platform called TutorMe.com. The online service provides real-time assistance for students by connecting them to qualified tutors on a schedule as the students choose at night or as is convenient for them, Underwood said.
“Say you’re starting with chemistry, and even though your teachers have helped you, if something’s still not clicking, this service we’ve purchased for our families, you can go in, select your tutor and boom, they’re there,” he said. “Schedules are posted so if you like a certain tutor, you can request them and find out their schedule.”
Underwood said it’s an added benefit meant to add to and not replace the help received from faculty at Sierra Lutheran.
The school also has added a new position to its team, an academic advocate to help students who are struggling or who might wish to accelerate in their course of study.
Underwood also said the school will be hosting its Sierra Golf Classic tournament at Silver Oak Golf Course on Saturday to benefit the school with details available at www.slhs.com/giving/golf-tournament.
In preparation for its physical expansion, originally announced in February, Sierra Lutheran’s Phase 2a facility remains on track for its groundbreaking to take place next spring, Underwood said. Plans are to add a 13,000-square-foot, multi-use building to the north side of the campus, providing SLHS with additional classroom space, a science lab, an Academic Learning Center and social support services.
“We’ve got a lot of great things going on this year,” Underwood said.