There will also be a school presentation dubbed a
mini-performance featuring students from preschool through 8th grade
showcasing their musical talents at 6:30 p.m. on the stage. Zion is
well-known for putting on spectacular Christmas programs and
musicals over the years and this special presentation by the
students is sure to be entertaining.
A hidden gem
For those who may not be familiar with this hidden gem in Mount
Pulaski, Zion Lutheran School has been around for 165 years and in
recent history went through a major change. The school added on
several new classrooms and offices, a new cafeteria that doubles as
a stage and a brand new state of the art gymnasium. The students and
staff moved into the new additions in the Fall of 2012. The old
classrooms in the old building were also remodeled at the same time
and so now everything looks brand new inside this impressive
parochial school. Despite maybe being a hidden gem, Zion is not hard
to find. The church and school sit on the busy main street of town,
Vine Street, and amazingly feature a relatively small staff with
nearly a century worth of teaching experience.
Nearly a century worth of experience in a handful of teachers
Nearly a century
worth of teaching experience here. From left to right Jean Davis (22
years), Julie Cooper (18 years), Lori Allen (21 years), Kathy Maske
(29 years), Stacie Gerding, Administrative Assistant and Rachel
McCormick (first year teaching).
At the top of the list
sits Kathy Maske, the kindergarten and first grade teacher, with 29
years of teaching experience.
Jean Davis, the fourth and fifth grade home room teacher, who also
teaches Social Studies to second grade through eighth grade
students, has 22 years of teaching experience.
Meanwhile, Lori Allen is close behind with 21 years of teaching
experience and she is the home room teacher for sixth through eighth
grade and also teaches Math and Science. Her Science students are
fourth through eighth grade students and her Math students consist
of second grade and then fifth through eighth grade students.
Julie Cooper is the preschool teacher with 18 years of experience at
Zion. Cooper has a degree in Early Childhood Education from Illinois
State University and she took over the program when the previous
long-time preschool teacher, Wilma Droegemueller retired.
Cooper is also assisted in the preschool room by two ladies with
lots of experience with children, Jo Rentmeister and Kathy Davis.
The new kid on the block of the Zion teaching staff is Rachel
McCormick. This is McCormick’s first year teaching and she is the
home room teacher for third and fourth grade and also teaches
Language Arts to second through eighth grade students.
McCormick is by no means new to Zion, however, she attended school
here and was taught by her current coworkers at the school. “I went
to school here for a long time and I loved it. I just loved the
loving atmosphere,” said the 2014 graduate of Illinois College in
Jacksonville. Recalling her childhood at Zion, McCormick said, “The
teachers really cared and the students cared about each other. I
have a lot of good memories here.” So when the job opened up it was
easy for McCormick to make the decision to return to her old school.
“It’s nice being home,” she smiled.
Lori Allen is another teacher on the staff that thinks of Zion as
home. She previously taught at Illini Central and Mount Pulaski High
Schools, as well as a short stint with Carroll Catholic School in
Lincoln before settling down at Zion.
Allen said, “When Mr. Wernsing retired, Zion was looking for a
junior high teacher. My kids (Hannah, Rachel and Elizabeth) were
already here. So they called and asked if I might be interested, not
as the principal, but in Mr. Wernsing’s teaching position.” Snapping
her fingers Allen said her answer was, “In a heartbeat, absolutely,
that’s where I want to be.”
Today Allen is the unofficial public relations person for Zion
Lutheran School. Her passion for teaching and her love for the
school come across naturally and enthusiastically. “If a family is
looking for a Christian education there is certainly an opportunity
in Logan County,” said the bubbly teacher, who feels there are many
advantages to a smaller parochial school environment. “With
parochial schools the state does not have as much of an influence on
the curriculum as they do in the public school. For example, for
common core we do not have to follow a state guideline for following
common core across the board. If there are parts of it that we think
are good for our students, then we can apply those parts as
necessary. If there are parts that we think do not benefit our
students, then we do not have to pull in that part of the
curriculum. There is a little bit more of academic freedom.”
Allen explained even further, “This still allows us to be
challenging, but the small size allows us to meet all the kids’
needs. We can move at different paces for different kids. We can
give lots of one-on-one help. You just cannot do that when you have
a class of twenty-five.”
Allen’s students are more than prepared for an interview
Mrs. Allen’s fourth
and fifth grade students eagerly shared stories about science and
things they love about Zion.
On this particular day of the interview, Allen was preparing her
junior high science class of five students for the open house by
going over a forensic science experiment the students had been
working on. “Hands-on science is really, really important at the
elementary school level,” Allen believes.
Allen also emphasizes written communication among her students and
the reason being is, according to seventh grade student Jaycie Doerr,
“So that we can communicate with other scientists around the world
so that they know our results for the experiment.”
Allen also emphasizes the use of scientific equipment and
organizational skills, both of which have heavily influenced eighth
grade student Teagan Wyss. Wyss, who was recognized as the most
organized by his classmates, is even thinking about a career related
to science. “I am thinking about doing something in forensics, like
forensic science or maybe lab analyst. That may be the path I am
going down now,” said Wyss.
Allen was also preparing a group of fourth and fifth grade students
for the open house by emphasizing the importance of agriculture in
this community. The students have covered topics from plants and
soils to dairy and animals, all with a real-live hands-on approach.
Of particular fascination was the milking shorthorn cow that one
student brought to school.
Clay Aylesworth explains this story, “One time Walker Allen brought
his cow in and we actually got to see all the parts that we were
learning about, like the four stomachs and stuff like that. We also
got to feed it and that was really fun.” Allen took the hands-on
approach even further and allowed the students to experiment making
their own dairy products.
[to top of second column]
Emarie Willis was eager to explain, “We made ice cream. We
took ice and got heavy cream and salt and stuff and we mixed it
all up and we shook it. The next day we had all kinds (of ice
cream). We were in groups and we tasted all of them and we
labeled them from best to worst.” The students even voted after
the taste-testing and made graphs and charts.
They also learned the importance of working in groups under the
direction of Allen. “One of the really great skills these kids
are learning is how to work together and to be on a team,” said
the science enthusiast. “We always work in groups. We have to
learn how to be patient and we have to learn how to follow
directions and we have to learn how to do our best when working
in groups.” Finally she added, “Having fun is super-important at
this age.” Indeed by the smiles of the students in the
classroom, there was a great deal of fun to be had with these
Caleb Jackson, Roman
Howe, Colton Hagan, Jaycie Doerr and Teagan Wyss make up the seventh
and eighth grade classes at Zion in Mount Pulaski.
Moving on to more fun, Zion also offers many extra-curricular
activities for its students. Eighth grade student Roman Howe spoke
about the basketball program. “Basketball is really fun and the
coach is a really good coach. He’s understanding, nice and he
donates his time.”
Torry Lyons is the volunteer coach and he has donated his time to
the program for several years now.
Colton Hagan, a seventh grade student, also enjoys basketball at
Zion. “I like how we can become a team and work together and also
have fun while doing it. We work with all grades, fourth through
eighth graders and it just shows that it really does not matter what
grade you are in to really work with a team,” said Hagan.
Volleyball is also open to the younger kids, as Jaycie Doerr noted,
“We had one third grader on our team and she turned out to be a
really good player.”
In addition, Zion co-ops baseball with Carroll Catholic School.
Besides sports, Zion now offers Scholastic Bowl as another
extra-curricular option. Mount Pulaski Zion Lutheran co-ops with
Carroll Catholic School and Allen is also the coach of the team.
This gives the students a great opportunity to showcase their
academic skills while traveling to other schools for competitions.
Zion also offers electives to the students and Jean Davis is a big
fan of these. “We brought back electives, which I absolutely love,
so the kids get to choose what they want to do three times a week.
We are making quilts for Vonderlieth right now and we have Art one
day a week. I am also teaching the kids to play chimes.” Davis
herself plays the chimes and she says, “It gives us a chance to let
our different abilities shine, the things that we are good at, I
Davis has always been a teacher full of passion and enthusiasm and
it’s easy to see that she truly loves what she’s doing. She also
enjoys hers coworkers and says, “We are the best of friends and we
like to talk to each other and we enjoy doing other things, besides
Just as the lunch bell rang, Davis’ class bowed their heads in
prayer before leaving the classroom and the entire group began with
“Come, Lord Jesus...”
Memories of Zion with Alumni
Prayer is obviously an important part of Zion’s daily routine and
another favorite among the students is Chapel and the Chapel
Families. Here the older students have the opportunity to mentor the
younger students and it is an experience that students remember well
beyond the walls of the church.
Mary Jane Letterle Gilly, a graduate of Zion in 2005, remembers the
experience, “One thing I really enjoyed and benefitted from was
Chapel Families. I felt Chapel Families brought together all grades
at Zion. Instead of bigger kids picking on little kids, the bigger
kids were watching over the little kids, not just during the chapel,
but on the playground, during field trips and various other places.
It was nice having the older kids to look up to when you are younger
and it was a good feeling providing assistance to younger grades
when you were older.”
Christina Stoll Ross, a Zion alum, also fondly remembers those
Chapel Family days and the feeling of a sense of family and
community. “One of the greatest examples of this can be seen on
Wednesday mornings when the students file into the sanctuary with
their chapel families. Each year I looked forward to finding out
which students would be a part of my family for the year and
embraced the opportunity to spend quality time with those
individuals. I do not believe I fully understood at the time, but
being in those families was so valuable for practicing leadership,
responsibility and generosity, just to name a few.”
Abby Coers, the Marketing Director for Central Illinois Ag in
Atlanta, also graduated from Zion and recalls her time spent at the
school. “Looking back at my younger years, Zion was a time in my
life I will never forget. The individuals I attended Zion with will
forever have a place in my heart. We learned together, we played
together, and most importantly we studied God’s Word together. You
do not realize at the moment the impact this has on your life, but
the tight knit group of students and teachers at Zion will be there
for you throughout your life.”
“This is a very friendly and family-oriented place to be,” said
Davis of the school. She also mentioned the influence that former
teachers, Darrell and Karen Wernsing, had on the school and called
them “pillars of strength.” The Wernsings, along with the
Droegemullers, instilled values in these teachers that they have
Allen also chimed in with, “This is a great place to be and we just
want as many families to know about it as possible. Every child is
unique and special. Our goal is to love every child and encourage
them so they can become the best person that God has created them to
be, whatever role that is in society.”
Don’t forget about the food
While Zion is a great place to learn, it is important to note that
those minds need fed. According to students, past and present, the
cafeteria staff at Zion is fantastic and puts out great food!