Education, the Amish Way

Story and photos By KATARINA GAJIC

Classes at the Mission Valley Amish School begin at 8:30 a.m. All students sit in one classroom while the teacher reads them a story from the Bible. When he finishes, students and teachers sing religious songs together. Then the teachers start checking homework and giving feedback.

Montana is one of 28 American states with Amish settlements. It is home to five Amish communities, the oldest of which was established in 1974 near the town of Rexford in Lincoln County.  Eventually, a few families left the Rexford Amish community and made a new home in St. Ignatius in 1997.

Today, 35 Amish families live on lands they purchased on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The Mission Valley Amish School was established in 1998, shortly after the first families arrived. As the community grew, the school got bigger too. Approximately 50 students attend the school today.

Amish children are required to attend school from first grade through eighth grade. They learn English and German and learn the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. After finishing eighth grade, they learn trade, usually from a father or close relative.

The Amish are known for their simple way of life and their rejection of many modern conveniences. They forgo motorized transportation for bicycles, horses and horse-drawn buggies. Electricity isn’t used at all, and religion is at the center of everyday life. Amish communities are highly conservative and tend to be private about day-to-day matters.

At the Mission Valley Amish School, life is less private. Lower grades have classes in the church basement. Older children share one big classroom divided only by a curtain. The children are encouraged to ask questions about anything they don’t understand. Teachers work with them individually so they don’t have problems understanding lectures.

Although Amish children do not become church members before the age of 16, religion has a big influence on their lives. They are expected to behave according to “Ordnung,” an unwritten code that prescribes certain practices and prohibits others. In the community, religion is more important than the individual, which is why everybody follows “Ordnung.”

Taking these pictures was my attempt to understand and to show what it is like to be a child who was born in the Amish community and who is attending the Amish school. These are scenes many Americans never see