The University Laboratory School today is a world of artificial turf, computers in the classrooms and a state-of-the-art auditorium.
It all looks different to Bill and Betty Norris, who graduated from the school in the early 1950s. Back then, the lab school was in Peabody Hall on LSU’s campus, and students spent their free time hanging out there, even throwing parties in Peabody on Friday nights.
The LSU Lab School is celebrating its centennial this year. For the past 100 years, the school has ebbed and flowed as the university has gone through changes and Baton Rouge has lived out history.
It’s easy to see why the Lab School is in high demand in Baton Rouge. It boasts a successful alumni base, top tier teachers and athletics. It’s where outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal and LSU football coach Les Miles send their children.
The Lab School’s changes over time also reflect other dynamics in history — the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and more.
Displays of the school’s history greet today’s high schoolers as they walk down the halls. They show the white gowns that female graduates used to wear, the old football uniforms LSU donated when the Tigers deemed them to be bad luck and the national award-winning “stop jaywalking” campaign the Key Club produced in 1953.
For those who have now come to reflect on their time at the Lab School, two memories remain consistent despite gaps in years between their educations: the academic rigor and the close-knit atmosphere.
“We had idyllic high school days — I mean, it was almost like ‘Happy Days,’” said Betty Norris, who graduated in 1953. “I was not the scholar, I was not in the honors deal. But I sure had a good time.”
In its first year in 1915, the lab school was called “Demonstration High School” and was for grades 8 through 11. It hit its maximum capacity of 100 students — a few shy of the 2015 graduating class size — between 1919 and 1920.
The school was in Peabody Hall but not today’s version. LSU’s campus was originally in downtown Baton Rouge, and the lab school was there as well.
In 1925, LSU’s campus moved to its current location, and Demonstration High School moved with it into Peabody Hall. The name also officially became the Laboratory School.
Norris and her husband, Bill, both went to the school, nicknamed U-High, in the days when it was still in Peabody on LSU’s campus. Her senior class was the first to graduate from the new building on Dalrymple Drive.
The Norrises remember many parties being thrown in Peabody. He was on the football team, while she was a cheerleader and later a football team sponsor who was in charge of organizing many of the parties.
“The social life was fabulous,” said Bill Norris, who graduated in 1951. “Most Fridays we had a party at the school.”
By 1945, the school had expanded to educate grades one through 12, and the freestanding school campus on Dalrymple opened in 1953. Betty Norris was part of the first senior class on that campus.
The Lab School was progressive, in many ways. In 1947, long before the federal Title IX law prohibited schools from discriminating based on sex, the Lab School started a U-High Girls’ Athletic League. The girls broke up into two teams that would play each other because most other schools did not offer women’s teams for them to compete against.
In 1969 and 1970, the Student Council voted to allow girls to wear pants and jeans to school. Some girls’ sports, like volleyball and basketball, were not officially added to the school until the late 1970s.
At that time, the school rebuilt its elementary wing so its elementary enrollment could double and added kindergarten in the early 1980s.
Black students were first admitted to U-High in 1971. The change led to some of the school’s most famous alumni, including many members of the Temple family.
Former LSU basketball player Collis Temple III was a standout at U-High and said he loved the school so much he hopes to send his children there. Temple graduated in 1998. Temple’s sister is at the school, and his brother, Garrett, attended U-High and LSU before going on to play in the NBA.
“I spent the first 24 years of my life within about a 4 mile radius,” Temple said about his time at the Lab School and then at LSU. “... It gave me guidance in terms of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do.”
The most recent decade of the school’s history has brought with it a new elementary wing, a capital campaign, standardized dress codes and recognition as a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
Second-grade teacher Nichole Bonilla has had a front-row seat to the school’s living history for the past few decades. She attended the school from kindergarten through 12th grade and graduated in 2002, knowing she wanted to come back and teach.
Bonilla student taught at the lab school when she was in college at LSU and was then hired as an associate teacher who helped out in multiple classrooms before becoming a second-grade teacher with her own class. She said some of the biggest changes she’s seen are the size of the school and the use of technology in today’s classrooms.
But Bonilla is also teaching her students some of the same lessons that she once learned there. “Pioneer Day,” where the children dress up in costumes and square dance while learning about pioneers, was every bit as big of a hit with her generation as it is with the kids she teaches today.
The same physical education teacher who taught her how to square dance is now teaching her students how to do-si-do.
The alumni can easily pinpoint what pieces of inspiration they carried with them after they graduated from their corner on LSU’s campus — favorite teachers, subjects, extra curricular activities.
Bradford Banta, a special teams coach for the Washington Redskins, said the memory of the “state of mind” poem that was drilled into them at U-High lingers. The poem begins with the lines, “If you think you are beaten, you are; If you think you dare not, you won’t.”
Banta started at the lab school when he was in eighth grade. Though he played nearly every sport, the academics still stick out in his mind.
“Academically, it was a shock, more or less,” said Banta, who graduated in 1989. “It definitely pushed you harder than I had been pushed before. I basically would take my locker home every night.”
Betty Norris said a speech class she took instilled her lifetime love of watching performances.
“That just put me into another world,” she said about the plays she first read in speech class. “I’ve been an avid theatergoer from that time on, and I still enjoy to read a play.”
Today’s students have taken on traditions of their own.
They cup their hands in the shape of a “U” for “U-High,” the way that the University of Miami fans are known to do. They practice sports on a turf field next to the school, throw pots in art class and surf their computers in the library.
The school now boasts more than 1,400 students between grades K through 12, and a figure of 99 percent of graduates who attend four-year colleges.
And while the alumni can see the changes, it’s also evident to them in which ways the school has stayed the same.
“At certain parts of the school, I walk in and I say to myself, it smells like U-High to me,” Bonilla laughed. “The older parts — it feels to me like it did when I went to school here.”
“It’s a totally different place physically,” he said. “But the heart of it has stayed the same.”