WESTFIELD, NJ - The reason that parents often give for choosing to send their children to a religious school is that the local public schools aren’t as good, but that’s not the case in Westfield where most agree that the public schools are excellent. Nonetheless, many families have chosen to educate their children at Redeemer Lutheran School, which is fully accredited.
“They instill the values that my family believes in,” said Jennifer Seganish, who has a child in the preschool. “The teachers are excellent, the academics are wonderful. They have extras like violin for kindergarten last year, and swimming is part of physical education for older kids.”
She likes the public schools in her community, but there are some things that are not taught in that environment, and it’s for those things parents opt to send their kids to private schools. “At Redeemer, the teacher gets to know the kids on a personal level,” she says, “and ultimately the discipline they give is in line with what I do with my children. It brings the Christian values to my children.”
Kirsten Bonn, who has two children at Redeemer, agrees. “I like the religious education and the values that are taught,” Bonn said. “I like the way they resolve disputes among kids and the way they handle the kids’ interactions. I like the fact that in the morning they have circle and Jesus time, that they make special time for it.”
A good Christian education is an important consideration for Bonn, as are the values that are taught. “Honesty, respecting other children and adults,” are important to her, but she is most impressed with the way the teachers handle classroom issues. Whether a preschool child throws a car or a clique is formed, the teachers handle it well. “It’s clear to me that they’re believers, loving, kind, gentle and nurturing, even in case of conflict. Then children learn how to handle conflicts themselves through the example. The environment is what I want for my children.”
Alfred Tagliabue, principal at Redeemer Lutheran School, agrees that Christian values are paramount, and he believes that children need to be guided by the example of Jesus. So considering what Jesus might have done is part of the core education curriculum and is the guiding principle in teaching self-discipline and compassion. “We’ve [Christians] been teaching anti-bullying for 2000 years,” he said.
Tagliabue puts his money where his mouth is in terms of teaching the principle of loving your neighbor. Students are made aware of difficulties others are going through, such as the misery caused by the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri last spring. “We talk about tornadoes and tie it into our religion by asking, “What would Jesus do?” Answering that question helps children to understand how important it is to help those in need, and it makes considering Christian principles a habit.
Students and teachers don’t just talk about disasters with which others are coping, but they find ways to help. Teachers discuss the agencies that are there for people who are suffering, and though the news media isn’t covering much about Joplin any more, the kids at Redeemer will continue to think about the plight of the victims. As school gets underway this month, students at Redeemer are still taking collections to help with disaster relief. No one knows who gives how much, so whether a child puts in a nickel or a check for $5,000, it’s private.
Parents believe that the education at Redeemer is as good as is available anywhere, with Spanish beginning in kindergarten, and good music and art programs, which are often cut in budget battles at public schools. “The art teacher is phenomenal,” said Seganish. “I can’t believe the things the older kids do and display on the wall.”
There is no confusion about the values at Redeemer: if a parent sends a child to the school, that child will get a half an hour of religion every day, as well as chapel on Wednesdays, to which all parents are invited. Though it’s a Christian school, students of all faiths are welcome. “We encourage people to attend the church of their choice,” Tagliabue said. “Children don’t have to be Christian to attend our school. We’ve had students who are Muslim and Jewish.”
The first day of school for 2011 was Sept. 7, but there is no cut-off date for registration. Students can apply to attend at any point during the year. Information about tuition at Redeemer Lutheran School for preschool, kindergarten and grades one through six, as well as information about before- and after-school childcare, can be found on the school’s website http://www.redeemerwestfield.com/school or by calling the school at 908-232-1592.