By Michael H. Oâ€™Donnell
POCATELLO â€” Students, teachers and administrators shared excitement about the future opening of a high school at Grace Lutheran on Saturday, and pastor Jonathan Dinger shared it will take about $300,000 more in donations to â€śmake him sleep better at night.â€ť
Construction has started on the $2.5 million, 21,000 square-foot high school next to the existing K-8 school at 1350 Baldy Ave. Classes at the new high school are expected to begin next August with about 30 to 40 ninth-graders.
It will be the first private, religious-based high school in Pocatello.
Grace Lutheran school currently educates about 400 students in grades kindergarten through eight.
Enrollment in the new high school, like the elementary and middle school, will not be limited to students who are members of the Lutheran faith. The private school charges about $6,500 per year in tuition, but efforts are made to provide scholarships for families in need.
â€śGrace has offered what is arguably the finest education for grades pre-K through 8 in the state of Idaho,â€ť a brochure distributed at Saturdayâ€™s meeting and luncheon stated. â€śIt is our intention to build on this foundation to create a unique, state-of-the-art high school.â€ť
Existing Grace Lutheran middle school students Joel Besel, Ashlie Allbright and Jillian Nuding all shared that the smaller class sizes and individual attention they have received have made their educational experiences better.
When asked about the uniforms students will be expected to wear, Nuding had a quick response.
â€śI think theyâ€™re cute. Theyâ€™re not bad. Weâ€™ll survive,â€ť she said, adding students had input on the types of shirts, slacks, skirts and blouses that will be part of the uniform.
Teacher Ross Besel said he is looking forward to an opportunity to continue teaching Grace students at the high school level.
â€śI never thought it would happen,â€ť Besel said. â€śI see the difference it makes when kids know their teachers.â€ť
Aaron Hayes will be teaching history and arts and humanity classes at the new high school. He said he believes in the holistic approach to education that Grace Lutheran offers.
â€śI (get) paid less (than public schools), but I believe in this,â€ť Hayes said.
Science teacher Sarah Biesen will be moving to Grace Lutheran from American Falls, and she said she looking forward to working with students who are totally motivated.
â€śWhat excites me the most is the buy-in,â€ť Biesen said about parents and students.
Sandra Dillon, who currently teaches foreign languages at Idaho State University, said sheâ€™s looking forward to teaching Spanish at Grace Lutheran High.
Jeremy Hess will be taking over the task of being athletic director for both the junior and senior highs, and he said there will be obstacles. Grace Lutheran will only be able to field ninth-graders the first year as it competes against 1A schools in basketball and track.
â€śItâ€™s going to be a challenge,â€ť Hess said.
The basketball court at the new high school will have a new surface thanks to a donation from the Portneuf Health Trust.
Executive director of Grace Lutheran School Robert Raschke said there will be some gaps between needs and finances when the new school opens.
â€śThe first year, there might be some things weâ€™re a little short on,â€ť Raschke said, adding that the Grace Lutheran community always manages because of its pioneer team spirit.
Pastor Dinger said Grace Lutheranâ€™s school program currently has about $1.4 million available in its scholarship fund, but heâ€™d like to see that expand.
â€śWe need to broaden that reach into our community,â€ť Dinger said.
Seated in front of a panel with the Grace Lutheran Royals mascot of a male lionâ€™s head, Dinger said the school has a vision of providing excellence to all its students.
â€śA huge piece of this for me is that no one falls through the cracks,â€ť Dinger said.