The various preschool students at St. John's Lutheran School in Hannibal had to make a choice in the cafeteria lunch line.
"Would you like apricots or oranges?" Administrator Ann Lear asked each student.
"Oranges, please," one 3-year-old girl replied. She promptly received the cup of mandarin orange sections and continued on her way to the lunch table.
The next girl in line asked for oranges, as well.
"What do we say at the end?" Lear asked. There was a brief pause.
"Thank you," the girl said. It wasn't the word "please," but it sufficed. She also took the cup of orange sections and let the next person in line go through the same process. When the students sat at the lunch table, one of the first things they did was to place paper napkins across their laps before eating.
"They have to say ‘please' and ‘thank you' and be kind," preschool aide Susan Tourney said. "When they get up, they ask, ‘May I be excused?' For 3- and 4-year-olds, they do really well."
Teaching and enforcing manners at school is something on which St. John's prides itself. With about 140 students in preschool through eighth grade, small class sizes allow the staff to focus on more old-school educational approaches missing from today's curricula at most schools -- activities such as teaching manners and cursive handwriting and rapid mathematics memorization.
"Times have changed, and interests have changed," Lear said. "But it's a good combination (we have here) of the best of both worlds."
Not in Common Core
Learning cursive and strict memorization of fast math were dropped from Common Core educational standards around 2010 and 2014, respectively, but states and individual school districts still have the option of teaching them. Cursive writing was removed because of its declining use and the increase in technological communication. Focus on math memorization was discouraged because Common Core began placing emphasis on deep understanding of mathematics concepts, instead.
Students at St. John's start learning cursive and fast math in second grade. Unlike many their age who might grumble about learning such things, the second-graders enjoy doing them.
"It's all about how you present things," Lear said. "We kind of turned fast math facts into a game, like ‘around-the-world.' " Because students at the school already have to memorize Bible verses as part of their religious education, it makes sense to continue math memorization, Lear said.
As for cursive: "They love writing in cursive," second-grade teacher Brooke Gheens said. "It's almost like a reward to do it. Several take the workbooks home to work on it, even though it's not required."
Anna Lemon has her youngest daughter, Alana, a fourth-grader, enrolled at the school. She sent her four other children through public education.
"They did well at school," she said. "But when it comes to cursive, my two twins graduating high school can't read or write it."
Carol Logsdon, who has two children attending St. John's, has noticed a similar situation. Her third-grade daughter, Isabella, often writes in cursive outside of school.
‘What does it say?'
"She has a couple of friends who will ask, ‘What is that? What does it say?'" Logsdon said.
Both say there's nothing wrong with public school curriculum -- it's just that their children wouldn't get the individualized attention they need if in bigger classroom sizes. And the Christian focus -- praying, Bible lessons and church -- is a big reason, too, why they enrolled their children in private education. Having their children learn curriculum that is slowly being phased out is an added bonus.
"It's important to me and my husband to have our kids learn morals," said Logsdon, who herself attended the school as a child. "The way the kids say ‘please,' ‘thank you' and ask for forgiveness (if they do wrong), it helps build self-esteem and shows them somebody cares. The world needs more of that."
"We've kind of seen both sides (public and private education)," she said. "It's nice to see them teach the things they do because it sticks with the students as they grow up. The ‘old school' style, I find, works. I'm impressed with the outcome, and I like where my daughter is."
Teaching these things isn't something St. John's plans to abandon anytime soon.
"People will always need to use manners, do math and read and write cursive," Lear said.