Getting soaked

Lakeland Jr./Sr. High School Principal Robert Albaugh ducks to try and avoid one of several water balloons thrown his way Aug. 10 during a kickoff event for the new school year. Lakeland opened its doors Aug. 14 to start the new school year as a completely reconfigured, smaller school district.

LAGRANGE — Lakeland Jr./Sr. High School Principal Bob Albaugh’s new shoes got soaked Saturday, along with the rest of his outfit, as he was pelted by water balloons thrown by Lakeland students.

Albaugh, as well as assistant principals Jason Schackow and Chelsea Superczynski agreed to walk 100 yards in front of students armed with water balloons Saturday evening as part of a kickoff event for the coming school year. Lakeland opens the doors to its schools Wednesday morning, as does the Westview School Corporation, Lakeland’s neighbor to the west.

“These were brand new deck shoes,” Albaugh said as he stopped to slip off one shoe and pour the water from it back onto the high school track.

School staff filled and handed out more than 800 water balloons to students for “Pelt the Principals,” the highlight of Saturday back to school event at the new Lakeland Jr./Sr. High School. The event was created to try and help bring together for the first time the school junior high school and senior high school student bodies who will share the former high school building.

Before they were given the chance to soak the three administrators, students were encouraged to walk among the tables set up near the school’s tennis courts by members of the various school clubs, and given an opportunity to ask questions about those clubs and sign up. Lakeland offers students a chance to join 28 different clubs at the school, including an art club, drama club, anime club, and even a fishing club.

“Kids who do more than just classes are more successful,” Schackow said.

Schackow said clubs offer students a chance to escape from the pressure they might feel in a classroom and hopefully will helps the students feel better about being part of the new Jr./Sr. high school community.

Each club is supervised by either a Lakeland staff member or an approved adult from the Lakeland community.

“The goal here is to get all 891 of us connected,” Schackow said of the students and school staff.

Despite the school system’s 50-plus-year history, the 2019-20 school year marks a new beginning for Lakeland.

Last year, school board members voted to close two of the school system’s three elementary school buildings, and consolidate students between the remaining three school buildings. Parkside Elementary was repurposed as the new Lakeland Primary School building, serving all the school corporation’s kindergarten through second-grade students. The former Lakeland Middle School was repurposed as the new Lakeland Intermediate School, home to Lakeland’s third- through sixth-grade students and the Lakeland High School is now Lakeland Jr./Sr. High School, home to the school corporation’s seventh- through 12th-grade students.

The school system still owns both closed elementary schools, Lima-Brighton and Wolcott Mills, and those buildings will host Lakeland’s new preschool programs. Administrators are still talking to other organizations about bringing in special advanced classes from organizations like Trine University and Ivy Tech.

Lakeland Superintendent Eva Merkel said the moving out of those two elementary schools and shifting classes between the remaining three buildings went surprisingly well.

In addition, she said that between teacher retirements and staff members leaving Lakeland to take positions with other school districts, Lakeland only had to eliminate one job.

Schackow said the way the former high school building has been repurposed, the junior high school students will basically use one wing of the building for all their classes, having little daily contact with older students. Classroom schedules were shifted as well, meaning classes for junior high schools start and end at different times than those classes for high school students. That ensures those two groups won’t even find themselves in the school’s halls at the same time.

“We’ve gotten rid of the bells,” Schackow said.

Lunch periods have been created so that junior high and high school students using the same cafeteria will eat at different times, too.

Those measures have gone a long way to help ease the concerns of many of the school system’s junior high school parents. However, some say they will wait until they started to get a little feedback from their junior high school students before they give the consolidation their full blessing.

“I still got my concerns,” said Eric Curtis, who showed up along with his son, a seventh-grade student, at Saturday’s kickoff event.

Curtis said his son is still a little nervous about attending the new Jr./Sr. High School, and said he’s decided to adopt a bit of a wait-and-see attitude until be makes up his mind on whether Lakeland’s move was a success.

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