Wolf River Lutheran strives to incorporate community, grow as a school
A graded dirt ring marks the start of a school track for Wolf River Lutheran High School. Principal Jerry Jiter said there are plans to pave it next spring so the school can host its own track tournaments future years. (Lee Pulaski | NEW Media)An area is marked off for a future greenhouse at Wolf River Lutheran High School. Over $5,000 has been raised so far to build one, according to principal Jerry Jiter.

(Lee Pulaski | NEW Media)A new scoreboard will be well utilized by Wolf River Lutheran High School’s athletic teams. Although it has not been put on the wall yet, that is expected to happen in the near future.

(Lee Pulaski | NEW Media)
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

SHAWANO — Wolf River Lutheran High School graduated 11 in May, one of its biggest, all of them set on specific career paths.

“All of our kids had a purpose, a destination to go to,” said Jerry Jiter, the school’s principal as well as the de facto counselor. “In interviewing all 11, as well as the juniors, once they said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ we tried to find a way to either connect them with college or go through a youth apprenticeship program.”

Jiter hopes to achieve similar success this coming school year, along with implementing other programs at the small parochial school. He also seeks to grow his student numbers by flinging the doors wide open and showing more about what Wolf River does to provide a Christian education.

One of the misconceptions about parochial high schools is that they focus on the religious side of education but don’t do anything to prepare students for college or the workforce. Jiter points to the 11 graduates going to college or apprenticeships as an example that the misconception is false.

“We’ve got one that went into a welding program. We have another one going into a veterinarian program this year,” Jiter said. “Youth apprenticeship is one of those main things that we’ve developed because kids had a desire. That was one of our biggest achievements, I feel like.”

The youth apprenticeship program was brought to the school in the middle of the last year, so the program will be able to run a full year this year.

There are other things in the works. The school is working to grow its athletic programs, as well. Preliminary work has begun on building an outdoor track behind the school, and there are future plans for baseball and softball fields on its west side, according to Jiter.

Like other schools in the area, Wolf River is in the process of building a greenhouse. About $5,000 has been raised so far, and a site has been set next to one of the west entrances.

Wolf River is starting the school year down in school enrollment, with five new students coming in, but the 11 graduates leaving puts the school’s new population at 24 as of this week. The new school year starts Aug. 19 for Wolf River, as private schools are not bound by state laws requiring public schools to start on Sept. 1 or later.

“Two advantages for this, one is that in August, parents and kids are ready to go to school,” Jiter said. “In June, they don’t want to be in school.”

Starting earlier allows the school to end the school year and hold graduation before Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. Jiter noted that the different schedule also allows for the end of the first semester before Christmas break, which means students don’t have to worry about taking finals once they return from the holiday.

“They come back Jan. 2. Brand new semester, brand new courses for some that are taking electives,” Jiter said. “It makes it a nice, clean break.”

Jiter said efforts are underway to make the school as welcoming as possible.

“We have a plan in place to bring more kids into the school on a regular basis,” Jiter said.

The plan includes having certain nights during sporting events where Wolf River pays tribute to some of the feeder schools — elementary schools like St. James, St. Martin and St. Paul lutheran schools as well as Sacred Heart Catholic School — with special nights.

There will also be events where seventh- and eighth-grade students can come and participate in activities to see what Wolf River is about. They’d be able to shadow current high school students and find out what their days in school involve.

The recruitment effort won’t be limited to the older grades. Jiter said the school plans to host a basketball camp for children in the 4-year-old kindergarten to third-grade range.

“We’re going to have a mini-camp for them called the Little Eagles Camp and let them come in and experience a camp just for them,” Jiter said. “During one of our basketball games, we can probably just have activities for them to do.”

Wolf River also plans to host Drop-in Tuesdays where the community can come in — no appointment necessary — to get a tour of the building. Seniors will be leading the tours, Jiter said.

One of the things Jiter hopes parents and students see is that Wolf River is service oriented. The school requires students to perform at least 20 hours of community service each year in order to graduate, he said.

“Some of these activities will be led by our students, so this can be a way to teach them leadership and community service,” Jiter said, noting one of the community service activities coming up is to help provide parking for the Shawano County Fair.

Jiter said he tries to encourage parents who want to enroll students to make that decision at the start of the school year rather than in the middle to keep from causing a jarring cultural shift.

“We didn’t see growth during the school year, and I try to discourage that unless a family moves right into the community,” Jiter said. “I try to tell them that they’re better off staying where they are and making it work, and then we talk in the spring and say, if you’re going to make a change, it’s better to do that the next school year.”