HULL, Iowa | The school bells toll for three colleges in Sioux County: Dordt College in Sioux Center, Northwestern College in Orange City and Northwest Iowa Community College on the west edge of Sheldon.
Not bad for a county of 33,704 residents.
Did you know that the Sioux County town of Hull, population 2,175, supports three high schools? There's Class 2A Western Christian with its 255-student enrollment in grades 9-12; Class 1A Boyden-Hull and its 181-member student body.
And then there's Trinity Christian, a school founded with solely a freshman class in 2008, a class that became Trinity's first graduating class two years ago. Some 69 students in grades 9-12 begin the 2014-15 academic year at Trinity Christian on Monday.
Students, teachers and staff members will start the school year they way they start each day. They'll meet in the music room as the school bell sounds. They'll do their morning devotions before breaking into songs from the psalter.
"It's my favorite part of the day," says Principal Jim Regnerus. "It moves a person. It's an awesome way to start the day."
It's one of four times during the school day that students and teachers pray together. Another prayer break occurs just before lunch, a lunch that on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday is a sack lunch. (Wednesday is a hot meal prepared by parents; Friday is a lunch treat whereupon orders are taken from one area restaurant.)
Prayer also takes place just after lunch and then at the end of the day.
"It's nice to go to school with people who believe in the same things as you do," says Haley Uittenbogaard, a 2014 graduate who will soon start her freshman year at Northwest Iowa Community College.
Trinity Christian is Protestant Reformed Christian based, says Kassandra Heynen, a Western Christian and Dordt College graduate who is starting her fourth year teaching science, chemistry, physics, geometry and health at Trinity. She also coaches girls basketball, softball and track.
Western Christian, according to Heynen, is Christian Reformed-based.
"There are distinct differences in doctrine which comes forth in the classroom," she adds. "Those doctrinal differences are why we began."
The churches divided, so to speak, 90 years ago. Trinity can trace its independent educational roots to Northwest Iowa Protestant Reformed School, which was founded in 1967. That's where Regnerus, a native of the Chicago area, taught for 18 years.
A Protestant Reformed grade school in Hull was formed in 1976.
According to Heynen, it was a matter of time before a high school arose to fully serve those of the Protestant Reformed Christian faith.
"We do follow church doctrine," says Regnerus, who points out that the church has no direct control over the school. "We also believe it is the Biblical duty of parents to educate their children."
Parents play a central role in this education setting, the principal says. So do teachers and the 8-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio. Those factors and the modern academic amenities found in this $3 million school have likely played a role in an average ACT score of 26 compiled by upperclassmen at Trinity.
The school, whose tuition comes to $6,050 annually, is one of 15 to 20 Iowa high schools "specially accredited" by the Iowa Department of Education. To maintain that special status, some 80 percent of Trinity's grads must apply to and be accepted by a four-year liberal arts college.
Thus far, Trinity's students are making that grade.
"They better," Regnerus says. "We have wonderful facilities and committed families."
Case in point: Each Trinity student this week begins the year with a school-issued laptop computer.
"It will be cool having laptops," says sophomore Emily Uittenbogaard. "We used to have to sign up for times in the computer lab and then take the time to sign-on to a computer. Now, we just carry our laptop to class."
And on that laptop she'll type notes as Heynen discusses the foundation of her earth science class, for example.
"I base earth science and all my classes on how God's sovereignty and how His hand controls all," she says.
Heynen begins each class with a Bible verse, one that's repeated Monday through Friday before students move to another verse.
As a coach, she approaches athletics the same way, reminding her athletes to strive in sports and in life for perfection.
"To strive for perfection, you must obey God's laws," she says. "Now, we know we're not perfect in life. We also don't make every shot or get every rebound. That's life."
Regnerus says he appreciates Trinity's family roots even more when stopping by Heynen's room. The 25-year-old will teach two of her younger siblings this fall.
More Heynens are likely on the way, as the Boyden, Iowa, family has 12 children.
That mirrors what Regnerus expects to see in enrollment trends here. Based on baptismal records in the Protestant Reformed Christian churches in Hull and nearby Doon, Regnerus anticipates enrollment to reach the mid-90s in a decade.
The campus, which stands on 15 acres (13 of which were donated), has a full gym and will soon welcome the addition of playing fields for soccer, baseball and softball. The dirt work for those fields was done last fall.
that means one day Hull may have three high schools, each with their own facilities, their own staffs and their own growing student bodies.
"The town has been very supportive," Regnerus says of Hull, a community that supports a trio of high schools and several grade schools.
Regnerus says the reaction was common in this community that, like most of Sioux County, is both conservative and progressive, often at the same time.
"People said, 'Hey, if it's another high school in Hull, then that's good for Hull," he says.