The Milbank School District has entered into an agreement with the Blue Sky Hutterite Colony near Revillo to serve seven students. “I was told... Blue Sky Colony School is Up and Running

The Milbank School District has entered into an agreement with the Blue Sky Hutterite Colony near Revillo to serve seven students. “I was told I was the 128th colony teacher in South Dakota,” says colony teacher, Kari Schmeichel. Schmeichel is employed by the Milbank School District.

“This is not an uncommon practice in South Dakota,” says Superintendent Tim Graf. There are over 60 colonies in South Dakota. “It’s all over the state. The agreement will be cost neutral to our district and having a better educated society is a benefit to all.”

Graf says the agreement with Blue Sky and the Milbank School District is a typical agreement. “Right now our numbers are lower than most other colonies, but we feel that will change over time as the colony grows.”

Blue Sky was established south of Milbank, near Revillo, about one year ago. The members were formerly part of Sunset Colony of Britton, but five families relocated to this area. “That is typically how new colonies begin. They can only get so big, and then they have to break out into new ones,” Schmeichel says. Graf says he had heard rumors of Blue Sky relocating to the area, but was not in contact with the colony’s minister, Tim Walder, until late last spring.

Of the seven students, five are in elementary classes and two are in high school. Two are in kindergarten, and one each in first, second, and fifth grades. One student is in ninth grade and one is in eleventh. “It is definitely a lot of work planning for all the different grades,” Schmeichel says. “It takes a lot of organization, but I enjoy working with each one of them. They are fun and really funny. I hear a lot of giggles and see a lot of smiles throughout my day, which makes it all worthwhile.”

Because of the small numbers, Schmeichel weaves music, art, and physical education into her lesson plans instead of sending them to a different teacher or classroom. “We use music for learning concepts rather than learning songs for a performance. We integrate art into learning concepts as well, and will adapt our physical activity to the seasons.” One thing Schmeichel is not responsible for is making lunch for the students. “The parents make their lunch, so that is some downtime for me.”

Blue Sky feels much like a one-room schoolhouse. “There are two classrooms in the school building,” Graf said. “One is for their German school and one is for our classroom.” The building, which was provided by the colony, was moved to the site the first week of August. Set up, planning, and organization was done quickly in preparation for the first day of school.

The school operates as a public school of the Milbank School District in accordance with all state and federal laws, administrative rules, and policies. Attendance is five days a week with similar hours of operation and they follow the district’s calendar.

“The students attend their German School before and after our regular school hours each day,” Graf says. “One of the colony parents is the German teacher.” According to Koch School Principal Amy Brandriet, high respect is shown to the German language, but the colony also places emphasis on every member learning English.

Technology is also important. The two high school students take online classes with Schmeichel overseeing their work and progress. Schmeichel says, “They were not used to taking online classes, but have taken it on without complaints, and have done well so far.”

“Technology also is helping to meet the needs of the younger students,” Brandriet says. “It helps us teach at their grade level rather than their age.” She says a lof of independent work takes place, and the children help each other. “With some language barriers, the older students are also there to help translate for the younger students who do not know English quite as well yet.”

“They are very trusting and open to suggestions,” Brandriet says. “Things are progressing nicely and great relationships have been established. Schmeichel agreed, “We are a small little family.”

Staff Writer

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