I have known Matt and Alicia Cory for quite a while, and I thought I knew the answer to the question I was about to ask them, but I posed it to them anyway.
“Why are you at RCLS?”
“Small class sizes, the quality of the education, and breadth of programming” Matt announced, definitively and without hesitation.
“That’s it? It’s as easy as that?” I pressed. I get it, but I knew they had transferred three of their four boys into RCLS from another school, and I was hoping to step into their minds long enough to understand the decision to move children from one school to another. That’s not an easy thing to do, after all.
“An emphasis on encouragement, not correction.”
Well, now I was scribbling. I guess the answer to my query was not so easy, or maybe these are the aspects of the quality of education the Corys were seeking. I didn’t stop to think too much because this highly principled and productive couple was still ticking off their reasons, so I kept writing.
“An engaged, knowledgeable principal.”
“Teachers who successfully manage the unique needs of every student.”
“A Christian environment.”
“OK, tell me about Colton,” I interrupted. I wanted to understand these aspects of an RCLS education as they relate to a specific child, and really, I thought a story might slow these two down a bit. “Did you ultimately land at RCLS because of what you wanted for him?”
Colton is the youngest of four active Cory boys. To know him is to love him––he is cheerful and kind––but to love him, you’ve got to keep up with him, first.
“Colton is our strong-willed child,” Alicia began, and “he’s got a lot of energy.” He’s not at all defiant, she explained, but he does need boundaries, and he responds to “fair but firm” direction. “In the school we were at, Colton was in a busy kindergarten classroom and did ok, but when the class moved to 1st grade, the school made the financial decision to limit the grade to a single section. In a classroom of 25 six-year-olds, we just knew that Colton would be one of the kids lost in the crowd or in trouble all of the time,” Alicia explained. “Even great teachers would struggle to meet the needs of that many very young children,” she continued. “We just did not see that as an environment that he would thrive in.”
So, the Corys began to consider other options. Then, because they had some doubt about their school being able to academically challenge another of their sons, Weston, a rising 5th-grader at the time, they knew they were looking for a place that could meet the varying needs of their family. Weston is significantly more reserved than his younger brother. Quiet and intelligent, this young man was more likely to get lost in the crowd for different reasons, Alicia explains, so they hoped to find a place that could challenge him and keep him engaged in learning. The Corys were also committed to the idea of a faith-based learning environment. Did such a place exist in Rochester? …a Christian school that is committed to the practice of considering students’ individual needs and that, at the same time, has the resources to meet those needs?
A Place Sought, A Place Found
The Corys initially investigated RCLS because of the faith-based aspect of the school, but when they met Mrs. Lagerwaard, RCLS’s principal, they knew they had found the right place. “She was so engaged with our boys,” Alicia remembers. “She asked concerned questions and really conveyed to the boys that she cared.” In fact, she laughs, “When we brought our older son, Kaeden, to visit RCLS a year later, he was reluctant to transfer, but after he met Mrs. L., he liked her so much that he left saying, ‘Well, now I’ll feel guilty if I don’t come to RCLS!’”
Kaeden did, eventually, enroll at RCLS, but the Corys started at RCLS first with Colton, in 1st grade, and with Weston, in 5th grade. It wasn’t long before Matt and Alicia decided it was the right move to make. They still remember being “blown away” by the aspects of the school that ministered to their needs and priorities as a family. For one thing, Matt and Alicia remember being in awe of the response that Colton’s 1st-grade teacher prompted from him. “Rather than being in a class of 25 1st graders, Colton was in a class of 13. Then, Mrs. Bryngelson was so gentle and loving but firm with all of the students.” In such an environment, Colton thrived. “He wanted to please his teacher, so he complied. That’s how it was with all of the kids in the class.”
The school’s technology program, too, impressed this new RCLS mom. “I remember volunteering to help with tech class, and I couldn’t believe that these kids were putting information together for a PowerPoint presentation. They programmed robots, they worked in groups to produce projects. I loved it, they loved it…and it was so reassuring to me to know that kids were learning to use this tool in a Christian environment.”
Then, too, Colton was put into an enrichment class. “If you can keep Colt mentally challenged,” Matt explained, “that’s half the challenge.” Yes, even just last week, Alicia added, now that Colton is in 4th grade, he came home talking about his plant biology enrichment unit. “There’s a lot to learn in this one,” he reported excitedly to his mom.
In that first year at RCLS, in 5th grade, Weston had Mrs. Woolman, who excels at offering differentiated learning opportunities for her students. Weston, in particular, loves to read, and his parents were thrilled to see him motivated by the school’s Accelerated Reader program. “Mrs. Woolman has such concern for individual students in her classroom,” Matt said, and in that learning situation, Weston prospered. He also benefitted from other opportunities such as Lego Robotics and band. “That first year, Weston even participated in the fall play. We couldn’t believe it. Our jaws dropped. We hardly recognized our quiet kid on stage!” Mrs. Woolman and Mrs. Lagerwaard, too, regularly checked in with Matt and Alicia to see how Weston and Colton were doing. “There was such a sense of welcome and compassion, not just for the boys, but for our family as a whole,” Matt recalls.
A Place for Community
The Corys quickly began to experience the depth of community that characterizes RCLS. “My initial reaction to seeing Chapel Families was shock,” Alicia recounts. “It was a big deal for us. In those early months, I remember watching older students caring for younger students during Chapel. The Chapel Family concept prompts a soft side in the older students at RCLS,” Alicia postulates, “and teenagers develop such a sense of responsibility.” The Corys note that the Chapel Families concept serves a student on so many levels. “There’s an interactive, social piece,” Alicia notes. “I’ve watched little kids wave to big kids here at school and in public. I’ve watched a 4th-grader calmly manage a rowdy 1st-grader in Chapel without getting upset. That sort of connection and responsibility would not happen without Chapel Family relationships.” Older students are accountable to care for younger students, Matt notes, and it offers an opportunity to practice leadership in a small, safe environment. Meanwhile, younger students have such admiration for their older counterparts, and they benefit from the modeling of responsible, older students in the building.
Matt notes that this sense of community extends to the parents. “The foundation of friendships and families that we’ve enjoyed at RCLS has carried into the public environment,” he notes. “Here at RCLS, we enjoy the breadth of programming that is available at larger schools, but we appreciate the small-town feel of the community. Now, with two boys at Century High School, we go to football games and sit with other RCLS families.” It’s so reassuring, Alicia adds, to know that there is “family there watching our kids. We’ve sort of extended the RCLS environment into the public setting.” Even more exciting, the two note, is that they have expanded that community to others at Century, as well. “What began here at RCLS between our kids and other Christian families now exists on a larger scale in the public high school.” It’s a pretty great outcome, they conclude. RCLS students are leaders at the high school. They thrive in classes, athletics, and band, and both parents and students still get to enjoy the comfort of close community in the larger setting.
A Place for Leadership
After a year of watching their two youngest boys thrive at RCLS, the Corys decided it was time to transition the whole family to their new school home. Their oldest son was already in high school, but when Kaeden, their second, started 7th grade, he, too, transferred into RCLS. “It was a difficult decision,” the Corys remember, “because he had great friends, and it was hard to leave his school for that reason,” but, ultimately, he settled into RCLS in a matter of days. Kaeden initially had some academic challenges, but the Corys appreciated that RCLS had the capacity and professional training to manage learning difficulties. Beyond that, “RCLS was so accommodating,” Alicia remembers. “So that he could keep up with classes and still attend athletics practices at school, RCLS allowed us to bring a private tutor on site to work with Kaeden after school.” That accommodation, together with service and leadership opportunities, “allowed him to excel,” Matt notes. At RCLS, he says, there is a sense that teachers and administrators are approaching every student with a mindset of preparing them to excel at the next level. Now, in high school, Kaeden delights in the new people he meets every day and in the academic and social success that he is experiencing there. All of this his parents credit to Kaeden’s resilience and the supportive environment in which he spent his middle-school years. RCLS was the “whole picture” for Kaeden, Matt insists, a place that granted him friendships, extra-curricular involvement, leadership opportunities, and academic excellence.
The Place to Be
Given the amount of enthusiasm the Corys have for RCLS, it’s no surprise to learn about their level of involvement with the school. Matt currently sits on the Board of Directors, and Alicia is a photographer extraordinaire, who donates a ton of time and talent to the school with her photography. (Her work is featured throughout the school’s website: rcls.net.). Together, the two show up at most school events––field trips, athletics competitions, music programs, plays––where they typically are serving or participating in some fashion. Why this level of commitment?
This is a great place to be, Alicia says. “It’s a welcoming community. There is emphasis on encouragement rather than correction. There is great depth of individualization here.”
“Most people think ‘small school, small offerings,’” Matt adds, but that’s not the case at RCLS. Instead, there is place and opportunity for all.
“Also, leadership opportunities.”
“A sense of community. Academic excellence. Safety.”
Wait a minute. Now they had me scribbling again. RCLS is a great place to be. Maybe it is just as easy as that.