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Faith Lutheran hopes to build off successful graduating class

CRYSTAL LAKE – More than $1 million earned in scholarships, average ACT scores of 27 and more than 900 hours of community service – those are only a few accomplishments of the 13 graduating seniors at Faith Lutheran High School in Crystal Lake.

The small private school has found increasing success since moving in 2008 to Crystal Lake from Marengo – where it opened in 2004 – and is attracting students from throughout the McHenry County.

"I think it really gets down to smaller is better," said Chris Shoenleb, executive director of the school. "We have a student-to-teacher ratio of about 12-to-1 right now."

Gabbie Salazar, of Algonquin, was one of the 13 graduating seniors this year and earned multiple scholarships that will help her pursue a degree in teaching at the Moody Bible Institute. Having spent all four years of her high-school career at Faith Lutheran High School, Salazar said there are a lot of misconceptions about small schools.

She said she found there were more opportunities to get involved in clubs and activities because the school is small enough to be flexible and adapt to each classes' interests. There is also a more engaged classroom experience, she said, because classes are small enough to operate in a more casual conversation method than a standard hand-raising, called upon system.

"It challenges us to prove that 'yeah we're small, but we can still do big things,'" Salazar said. "You're not just another face or a number. You're a person and you feel like you're part of a family."

Shoenleb said graduates throughout the years have gone on diverse career paths whether it is a student such as Salazar pursuing teaching at a religious institution or others pursuing careers such as engineering or business at University of Illinois or DePaul.

The strong academic results and community service requirements that help bolster resumes have attracted more and more students, Shoenleb said. The school has grown from 38 students in its first year to 80 in the most recent year. He said the goal is to grow to about 140 so classes can remain small.

One student who transferred and has enjoyed the experience is Austin Butler. Butler left Cary-Grove High School after his freshman year and is now the student council president at Faith Lutheran as he prepares for his senior year.

"I took the leap and came here and realized that just because there are 13 people in a class doesn't mean everyone still can't have a lot of fun. It's been a positive difference," he said. "I forget how small it is until the school comes together and you see it."

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