Most Amish young people finish their formal education at the eighth grade. They are legally exempted from compulsory schooling beyond that, unlike the general population. Now there is another option for those who would like more. The East Holmes School system in conjunction with Buckeye Joint Vocational School provides a program for those between the ages of 14 to 22 years who wish to add a practical knowledge of business to their repertoire.
Amy Stauffer-McNutt’s enthusiasm is clear to see as she talks about the forty to fifty students she teaches throughout the school year in the detached classrooms beside the Berlin Grade School. She describes her career path as a twisting one that eventually “led me to a job I love!” She feels God brought her to this place doing something for which she has passion, to help young people be ready for their entry into the work force.
Shortly before graduating from Kent State University with a degree in music education, Amy was approached about an opportunity to work with latch-key kids in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in Tuscarawas County. Never dreaming her career would lead down this path she started out on what would be an eleven-year stint working with these youth programs. After grant monies ended, and with them her job, Amy moved into a position as case manager for family mentoring in Holmes County. Working as a GED instructor, teaching music at a nearby Christian school, and continuing involvement in Holmes County mentoring programs, she found herself holding down five part-time jobs. Then her daughter was born and it was time to cut back to only her GED classes and related support groups.
When Amy heard about the possibility of teaching young Amish and Mennonite students the finer points of computer basics, English, math, language, accounting and the fundamentals of business she knew immediately she would enjoy the challenge. With her home life settling down and through a series of events she describes as “God moments” she landed the job and has been enjoying it ever since.
Amy says she enjoys the “cream of the crop” when it comes to students because it’s a choice they have made to be in her class, therefore they want to learn. They are also encouraged to attend by their parents who want them to get a head start with marketable skills and the knowledge needed to operate successfully in the business world. One parent expressed a desire to help her son avoid the pitfalls that threaten a new business because of a lack of experience and a limited education related to the running of it. Amy admires the work ethic among those in her class hailing it as remarkable and something they most likely brought with them from home. She describes Anne, a former student who refused to give up no matter how challenging the subject matter. “I thought of her when I was in grade school struggling with a very heavy work load; she was such an inspiration to me, to not quit, to stick with it.”
According to Amy, this route is not for everyone with some students realizing they are not a good fit for the courses offered. And she stresses this is not a bad thing. “This class gives them the chance to find out” if this is something they want to do as a part of the workforce.
Students in Amy’s class receive training in Dave Ramsey’s financial course which is provided for area schools by Provia Door. They also learn to create an appealing resume and communicate effectively in written form, a skill which can be challenging when English is not their first language; most Amish children learn to speak Dutch first. Students can choose either a one or a two-year course with second-year students receiving advanced computer skills training. East Holmes School District provides transportation for the students while Buckeye JVS provides the technology, books, and instructor. Amy says she would like to form a relationship between her class and area businesses that is “mutually beneficial” by pairing up students with specific skills to employers who are searching for the right person for the job.
As I look around the classroom with a computer for each student and with the evidence of learning everywhere, I can see this teacher’s enthusiasm has spread to those she is teaching. A racetrack with colorful cardboard cars is attached high up on one wall, indicating a bit of friendly competition in typing speed certifications. The unmistakable smells of the school atmosphere bring back memories of my own years in the halls of higher learning. As the child of parents who grew up Amish, I was not permitted to attend high school and this would have been the perfect compromise for someone like me who desired an education beyond the eighth grade.
I wonder which of the students from this humble beginning might be heard from later, which one might write a book or build a business offering employment to many others. Which one might pursue even more education leading to a career in teaching or the arts? Which one might go on to discover new innovations in agriculture or medicine? I suspect we will hear from some of them and in ways we might not expect.