PIEDMONT -- Zion Lutheran School on Park Boulevard in Piedmont is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year.
In September, students and teachers gathered in the parking lot to spell out the numbers "1-3-0" in body language and sing "Happy Birthday to Zion" followed by the mandatory chocolate cupcakes.
"Our school is one of the oldest continuously run parochial schools west of the Rockies," said kindergarten teacher Karen Hebel, who has taught at Zion for 10 years. "The school was established in 1883 in West Oakland as the 'German-English Day School' and moved to its current site in 1958."
The church and school first opened at Clay and 13th streets. It moved about a decade later to 12th and Myrtle before finding its current home at 5201 Park Blvd., right next door to the church. The school's first principal was John George Theiss, a graduate of Lutheran Teachers College in Illinois and brother of the church pastor. Theiss served as principal for 48 years and was also the church organist and choir leader.
Hebel said that family ties and schooling have always been components of Zion Lutheran Church.
"Lutherans have always been very involved in education in this country," Hebel said. "Next to Catholic schools, Lutherans have the largest number of parochial schools in the nation."
Hebel said her husband, Tim, was in the fourth grade at Zion Lutheran School when it moved from its West Oakland site to Park Boulevard.
"At that time there were two classes -- one for first through fourth grades and one for fifth through ninth grades," says Hebel.
Today, there are about 70 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
"We have eight faculty members with a combined 181 years of teaching experience -- it's pretty phenomenal," Hebel said.
Ruth Heinitz and her husband, John, have both been teaching at Zion Lutheran for 33 years.
"I'm from Texas, and John's from Illinois, and we both attended Lutheran college in Nebraska," Ruth Heinitz said.
Heinitz said that after graduation, the college assigned her and her husband to work at the Piedmont school.
"We'd never heard of Piedmont -- we had to look it up on the map," said Ruth Heinitz, who teaches fourth grade. "We only intended to stay a couple of years, but this became our family and our home. I grew to love the Bay Area -- and that's a hard thing for a Texas girl to admit."
Heinitz even taught her own three daughters -- twins Sarah and Beth, now 28, and Rachel, 30.
"I loved teaching my own children," said Heinitz, who recently launched a Facebook page for Zion Lutheran alumni. "We had a lot of fun weaving family secrets into the classroom."
Heinitz believes Zion Lutheran School is a hidden gem.
"This school is an amazing place that a lot of people just don't know about," she said.
Jasmine Bush's 6-year-old son, Zaiden, just began first grade.
"I like the school's family feeling and the small classroom size," Bush said. "There are great teachers and wonderful activities for the children such as music, Spanish and the after-school program."
This year's after-school activities include free weekly dance classes and "Cooking with Mr. Bautista," who also runs the hot lunch program.
Kylie Kuan, 7, who is new to the school, said she likes learning about the weather and condensation in her second-grade science class.
"Kylie went to Lutheran school in San Francisco before, so this was a good transition for her," said Jennifer Eckowitz, who was picking up her young cousin from school. "The kids and staff are all very friendly."
Ten-year-old Soul Barbosa left Zion Lutheran in second grade to attend another school, but before the year was out, she was back at Zion.
"The other school didn't challenge me so much, and I missed my friends," said the fourth-grader. "I asked my parents if I could come back. I like to be challenged in math, that's my favorite subject so far."
Fifth-grader Alyssa Watts, 10, has attended the school since kindergarten. She, too, is a big fan of math class and also likes wearing the school uniform.
"I like the uniform because it means you don't get judged on your appearance," said Watts, who also enjoys "great teachers and really good friends that I've had since preschool."
Hebel said Zion Lutheran School is the best learning environment she's experienced in her 36 years of teaching.
"Our philosophy is to help children become successful and responsible young adults so that when they get to high school, they are prepared," Hebel said.
What: Zion Lutheran School
Where: 5201 Park Blvd., Piedmont
Information: 510-530-7909 or www.zionlutheranschool.net