Early Out

For Amish students, classroom learning ends at the 8th-grade

Story and photos by ABIGAIL REDFERN

When most eighth graders look ahead, they see high school, with its mixture of excitement and trepidation. But not Brian Miller. He sees his school days coming to an end.

Miller is an Amish schoolboy attending the local Amish school in St. Ignatius, Mont. It is common practice among the Amish to attend school only through the eighth grade.

“I am excited about being done with school,” he says. “I don’t think I will miss it at all.”

He belongs to one of more than 40 Amish families who have settled in this town of fewer than 3,000 residents. They hold tight to their beliefs, including those about education.

For the Amish, living in this rural area has meant creating and running a small private Amish school, where students combine formal instruction with the demands of learning a trade, said Edward Beachy, a former board member for the school.

“The careers we pursue as plain people, we don’t need a higher education for,” Beachy said.

Miller is a leader in the church’s youth group and likes to plan fun events for his friends, but the afternoon begins with work.

Everyday after class, the 13-year-old Miller heads home to schoolwork and chores, but he also works in his family’s custom tent-making business with his older brother and his father.

Before the tent-making business, the Miller family built gazebos, so young Miller has learned building skills too.

Because Amish children leave school early, they have a longer time to learn multiple trades and, for that reason, many become successful Amish businessmen, Miller’s elders say.

“We never stop learning,” Beachy said. “By the eighth grade we feel like you have the fundamentals you need to be successful.”