CEDAR FALLS - Max Stabenow was nervous about his first day of high school.
Surrounded by unfamiliar people in a new place, the Waterloo freshman wondered if he would like attending Valley Lutheran High School. Starting at a brand-new private school wasn't his first choice.
"I wanted to go to West, but my mom decided I was going to come here, even though it was going to be hard for her to pay for it," said Stabenow, who attended Immanuel Lutheran School last year. "I just wanted to go somewhere else, because I didn't know how it was going to be."
The first-day jitters were common among the 12 freshman and three sophomores starting classes at Valley Wednesday morning. Most are from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area and attended public schools or Immanuel last year. Others have been home-schooled, and two students are from Clarksville and Delhi.
Classes are temporarily being held at Bethany Bible Chapel. The church is across Rownd Street from where Valley is being built along Greenhill Road. Contractors are projecting they will be done with the school by the end of December.
Stabenow and other students started warming up to their new school a couple of hours into the day when teachers issued them wireless laptop computers. The computers will be used in class for note taking, research and developing a portfolio. Students will lease the laptops, with the option to purchase upon graduation.
"I think it'll help out a lot with homework," said Waterloo freshman Jonathon Jacobson. "It will be there when we need it."
It's one feature that sets Valley apart from other metro high schools. But there are other differences.
The class order changes daily as the schedule goes through a six-day rotation. Class length also may vary between 85 and 55 minutes.
Principal Erward "Buzz" Tewes said the variations may help students who learn better at certain times of day. The different lengths allow the flexibility for labs, field trips and long-term projects.
"Our style of teaching is not lecture, but facilitation and discussion and projects," said Jim Killen, Valley's executive director. That approach emphasizes research, student-led learning and interdisciplinary planning.
"Every day we have a little bit of time in the day when we discuss how our curriculum in each area integrates with every other area," said science teacher Linda Graber. She said it's a flexible approach that "encourages creative teaching."
"It's kind of what I always dreamed teaching should be," said art teacher Judy Miller. "I think it challenges you more as a teacher."
Organizers began talking about building the school more than a decade ago and eventually formed the Eastern Iowa Lutheran High School Association. EILHSA includes six-member congregations from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the American Association of Lutheran Churches who provide financial support to the school.
Valley's Christian emphasis will be seen in classes opened with devotions or prayer, weekly chapel services and religious instruction led by local pastors.
Freshman Felicia Harvach said coming to a Christian school is a "dream come true." She is from Delhi but moved in with her great aunt in Cedar Falls to attend Valley.
"It's that feeling that you get when you're compelled; you want to do something," she said.
Others were attracted by the school's small class size. The 15 students are being taught by a staff of seven.
"Basically, I'd have to say this is going to be a really awesome opportunity," said sophomore Rosina Guyer of Waterloo. "The only thing I'll be missing will be the music program at West High," where she attended last year.
The music program will be built as the school grows.
Sports are not initially being offered at Valley. It's a "small sacrifice" to Guyer.
"It's definitely worth it," she said.