Lafayette High celebrates school’s 75th anniversary this weekend

April 21, 2015

150420Lafayette750004Lafayette High School celebrates its 75th anniversary this Friday and Saturday. Below, banners honoring distinguished alumni, staff and school groups have been hung in the hallways recently. Photos by Tom Eblen


Lafayette High School’s 75th anniversary celebration this weekend will be tempered for me by the realization that it was not quite half that old when I was a student.

I met the current principal this week. He was born two years after I graduated.

At least I won’t be the oldest of the hundreds of alumni coming back to the school Friday and Saturday. Not by a long shot. There is a dedicated group of 80-something Lafayette Generals who graduated in the 1940s.

“We are a school that is deeply, deeply rooted in the community that surrounds us,” said Bryne Jacobs, 36, who is in his third year as principal.

“A lot of our students have parents who went here,” Jacobs said. “Some have grandparents. We even had a girl at freshman orientation last year whose great-grandmother attended Lafayette.”

Everyone is invited to attend the free festivities that begin at 5 p.m. Friday. Former faculty and staff members will greet alumni in the library. Then about 150 of the school’s 2,200 students will lead tours of the campus.

The main building dates to the school’s founding in 1939, but there have been several additions and at least two major renovations. After the tours and socializing, there will be a vintage sock-hop dance in the gym, featuring an all-alumni rock band organized by David Hinkle.

150420Lafayette750024On Saturday at 10:30 a.m., alumni will begin gathering by decade to visit before walking over to Ishmael Stadium at 1 p.m. for ceremonies and performances by Lafayette’s award-winning band, orchestra and chorus.

Former Govs. John Y. Brown Jr. (class of 1952) and Ernie Fletcher (class of 1969) will speak. Jacobs thinks Lafayette may be the only high school in the state with two former Kentucky governors as alumni.

The event’s master of ceremonies is Tom Hammond (class of 1962), a longtime NBC sportscaster. He is the voice of the Olympic Games and the Kentucky Derby, which he will be calling the next Saturday.

“For him to take time out of his schedule in the week before the Derby says a lot about his feelings toward our school,” Jacobs said.

Lafayette is the oldest active public school building in Fayette County, built on the grounds of a former orphanage that included an 1850s mansion, The Elms, which burned a few months after the school opened.

Lafayette replaced Picadome High School and was named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution who visited Lexington in 1825. Fayette County also is named for him.

Jacobs wants to use the anniversary to highlight the school’s history and distinguished alumni, including actors Harry Dean Stanton and Jim Varney, musician Ben Sollee and politician Gatewood Galbraith.

Lafayette also has produced many star athletes, including golfer Gay Brewer, sprinter Tyson Gay, Major League Baseball’s Austin Kearns and the NBA’s Dirk Minniefield. Retired basketball Coach Jock Sutherland is a Kentucky legend.

Banners have recently been put up in school hallways highlighting the accomplishments of alumni, staff and school groups.

Dwight Price, 84, principal from 1972-1987, thinks a big reason for Lafayette’s success has been its diversity of culture and family income. It was the first white school in Lexington to be integrated, in 1955.

“We have a cross-section of America,” Price said. “And the staff has been tremendous the whole time. The early teachers set a great example, and the rest of us tried to follow that.”

I have always felt like a beneficiary of that tradition. So much of my life was shaped by great Lafayette teachers, including Julie Dodd, J. Larry Moore, Loris Points and Anne Combs.

Band taught me everything about discipline and teamwork, plus a thing or two about music. Being editor of The Lafayette Times set me off on a rewarding journalism career.

Lafayette’s principal was raised in Memphis but graduated from the University of Kentucky. He and his wife, a teacher at Breckinridge Elementary, settled in the neighborhood and quickly came to appreciate Lafayette’s culture. So, after a dozen years at Dunbar High School, Jacobs jumped at the chance to lead Lafayette.

“I’m only the eighth person to sit in this chair, so there’s some opportunity for longevity,” he said. “If I could still be here when my boys come through these doors, in the classes of 2026 and 2028, I think that would be great.”

150422LafayetteHS1941Lafayette High School in 1941. It is the oldest active public school building in Lexington.

Learning about code already pays off for one Lexington school

November 25, 2013

I recently wrote about the upcoming Computer Science Education Week and how a technology industry organization is encouraging every school to spend at least an hour the week of Dec. 9-15 introducing every student to the language of digital technology: code. Plans to do that have already paid off for one Lexington school., the non-profit group organizing the Hour of Code event, has awarded $10,000 to Southern Elementary School. The school’s planned activities include creating a life-size version of the popular cellphone game Angry Birds in the gymnasium Dec. 6 to get students excited about learning code basics the following week.

School officials plan to use the award money to buy equipment for the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) laboratory, said Lisa Deffendall, spokeswoman for the Fayette County Public Schools. She said was donating $10,000 to one school in every state, and Southern Elementary is Kentucky’s winner.




WEG inspired teacher’s unique geography lesson

January 18, 2011

Michelle Jackson was so excited about the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that she signed up to volunteer. Then, a week before the Games began last September, the fifth-grade teacher thought: How can I share this experience with my students?

After quickly consulting colleagues at Sts. Peter and Paul Regional Catholic School in Lexington, Jackson came up with a plan.

She asked students in her classes and in the school’s other fifth-grade class, taught by Peyton Nunley, to write letters welcoming WEG visitors to Lexington and telling them something about Kentucky.

Jackson, 24, a Centre College graduate, carried some of the 50 or so letters with her while she worked with journalists, athletes and spectators in media zones at the Kentucky Horse Park competition venues. Whenever she encountered people from other states or countries who she thought might appreciate a letter, she gave them one.

She didn’t have any idea how much the letters were appreciated until a few weeks later, when people started writing back from as far away as New York, Scotland and Australia.

A photojournalist from Australia sent the class a postcard with a picture of a koala. The mother of a para-dressage competitor from Scotland sent a letter and a big envelope full of brochures about Scottish parks and nature areas.

A sixth-grader wrote the class a detailed letter about what her life is like in Richfield Springs, N.Y., and she included several drawings of horses.

Jackson gave one letter to an Alabama family that included a fourth-grade girl. The girl took it to school to show her teacher, and one thing led to another.

On Friday, Jackson’s students will use Skype software to have a video conference with Amanda Gibson’s class at Liberty Park Elementary School in Vestavia Hills, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham.

Both classes have prepared for the computer-assisted meeting by sending questions back and forth, drawing posters and gathering maps and flags. “We’ve talked a lot about how we’ll have to take turns and that everyone can’t talk at once,” Jackson said.

The Alabama students want to know about Kentucky’s state bird, fruit, flower and fish, as well as the nearest amusement parks. They are curious about what burgoo is and what Sts. Peter and Paul School is like. They want to know whether any of the Kentucky kids own or ride horses, and whether they had been to the Kentucky Derby.

Because Sts. Peter and Paul is a regional school, several students do live on farms with horses. And the whole class will be able to tell the Alabama kids about WEG, because they were among more than 62,000 Kentucky students who got to attend, thanks to donations that Alltech raised from its suppliers.

Jackson’s students are interested in Alabama’s state bird, flower, tree and animal. But they also want to know about Alabama football and the space center in Huntsville.

“I asked what their favorite historical figure was, and I told them mine was Henry Clay,” Victoria Parrish said. Why Henry Clay? She said she lives near and has visited his Ashland Estate.

The fifth-graders are curious about the Alabama students’ favorite foods and plan to talk about theirs. Max Sparkman wants to tell them about Ale-8-One — “it’s my favorite soda ever” — which led several students to suggest that they send a case of the Winchester-made soft drink to Alabama. “I told them we’ll see about that,” Jackson said, making no promises.

Thanks to this letter-writing assignment, Jackson’s students said they learned a lot about other places and people — and know a lot more than they did before about Kentucky and their hometown.

“I thought it was interesting that one piece of paper we wrote on went to the other side of the world,” Mason McCollum said.

“Yeah, and I didn’t think any of them would write back,” Elli Spanier said.

All of which makes their teacher smile.

“I wanted them to learn that the world is very accessible to them,” Jackson said, “that adults in Australia and Scotland thought it was important to write back to 11-year-olds in Kentucky.”