‘Off to a good start’

The future looks bright for Lake Benton School. Enrollment is up, community support is solid and there is new playground equipment for the students.

While new playground equipment was recently added, Lake Benton students still enjoy the old-fashioned merry-go-round. The older playground and monkey bars can be seen in the background.

LAKE BENTON

Lake Benton Public School has a lot to celebrate.

Not only has the district nearly doubled its enrollment from a decade ago, community support has also grown significantly. That support was evident at the elementary school’s open house and playground dedication recently.

“The support from the community has been fantastic,” Lake Benton School Board chair Tony Schwing said during the dedication. “Ten years ago, if we’d have thought we’d be standing here with more than 250 people supporting our elementary school, even the most optimistic of us might have thought we were a little crazy. But we have almost doubled the enrollment since we had the first elementary-only classes 10 or 11 years ago. That speaks volumes.”

A decade ago, Lake Benton High School students began tuitioning to Elkton High School in Elkton, South Dakota, leaving the Lake Benton District with a K-6 school. Schwing said there were 86 K-6 students back then. Now, there are 175 students in pre-K through sixth grade, he said.

“Things haven’t looked this good at Lake Benton School for 25 years, in all aspects,” Schwing said. “I’m happy to be part of that and I’m glad all of you are a part of that, too.”

Along with the community support, Schwing praised the school staff for making a positive difference.

“It’s nice to have the facilities and have cash donations, but the people are what make it,” he said. “The staff at Lake Benton Elementary are the best. That’s what brings the students out to Lake Benton.”

Paul Richter, a 2000 graduate of Lake Benton, recently returned to his hometown to raise his children — 8-year-old Gabriel and 6-year-old Lillian.

“When you’re looking for a good education and community to raise your children, you can’t get any better than what’s offered around here,” Richter said.

While a good education and a small-town atmosphere were at the top of the list for Richter, he was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed back in the way he was. Walking through the door at Lake Benton Elementary, Richter was soon greeted by friendly — and very familiar — faces. Not only did a custodian recognize him and recall his name, Richter’s former music teacher did the same. The sense of connectedness he felt solidified his decision to send his children to Lake Benton School.

“It’s neat that my kids will have the same music teacher as I had,” Richter said.

Richter also remembered the old playground and appreciated the upgrade.

“This one was installed when I was in middle school or high school,” he said, pointing to an old playground structure. “That was many, many years ago. I think they’ve done a really nice job adding a lot of nice new equipment. Both my kids enjoy it.”

Sixth-grader Eli Detterman was also pleased with the playground additions.

“It’s a big upgrade,” Detterman said. “I’ll probably play there more. It’s my last year here at Lake Benton Elementary.”

Detterman said he especially enjoyed the dunk tank — and more specifically, dunking new Principal Jeff Hansen — during the celebration.

“It was fun,” Detterman said. “He used to be my neighbor until we moved.”

As a seventh-grade student, Collin Baartman now attends Elkton High School, but he still appeared to have fun at the playground with several other children in attendance at the open house and playground dedication.

It’s really good,” he said. “It’s bigger than the other one and it has more stuff to do.”

When asked what he thought about the activities, Baartman said, “It’s honestly pretty fun. My favorite part was the goggle-ball pit and just seeing a bunch of other kids playing around and having fun.”

Lake Benton Volunteers for Education (LBVE) had a key role in fundraising for the playground additions.

“I’d like to give special recognition to the Lake Benton Volunteers for Education group because they raised half of the funds for the playground,” Schwing said. “They raised in excess of $25,000 for this.”

Member Janell DeVries said the LBVE is much like a parent-teacher association (PTA).

“It’s a bunch of moms,” said DeVries, who also serves as a school board member. “It kind of came together about 2008, when the high school closed and they made a new mission for the elementary to be a standout elementary school. Then parents really jumped on this and it’s been very active.”

DeVries said she thought the school kick-off event went really well.

“It was a good turnout,” she said. “And the weather came around. It was a little cool this morning and I was a little worried about the dunk tank. But Mr. Hansen survived.”

LBVE member Jenny Nordmeyer explained how the playground effort came to fruition.

“We just noticed that some of the equipment was getting old and other playgrounds around the area were looking nice,” Nordmeyer said. “So it was time to upgrade and get ours to look nice, too. We wanted some new things for the kids to play with and wanted to be on.”

Some of the older equipment, such as the merry-go-round, metal jungle gym and monkey bars, was able to remain since there was enough space in the playground area after the new features were added.

“We were afraid that the merry-go-round would have to go away, but it got to stay,” Nordmeyer said. “The kids still enjoy being on it.”

Nordmeyer said the group fundraised hard.

“It took us about a year to get enough funding for the playground,” she said. “It was a lot quicker than I thought it would take.”

LBVE member Deann Schindler said the Lake Benton Foundation gala helped bring in money for the cause. She also shared some of the ways that the LBVE fundraised for the playground project.

“All our concession stand proceeds went toward it,” Schindler said. “We also made a blanket raffle for it, private donations came in for it, we did a three-point shootout at halftime for it and little kids had lemonade stands for it.”

Schwing thanked the Lake Benton Chamber of Commerce for donating all the food for the event and at past open houses as well. DeVries said the Chamber was “very involved” and added that Mayor Bob Worth was also in attendance “serving hot dogs.”

“It makes you feel good when the community comes together,” DeVries said. “It’s not just the school or a small group of people. It’s the whole community.”

In his address to the crowd, Schwing said there was no way he could mention everybody who had been a part of the recent effort, but that every contribution helped.

“From students raising money to plant trees here, to cash donations and support from the community for the people doing the fundraisers, it’s been great,” he said. “Local businesses have also been excellent and corporate businesses have been very generous, too. So to all of you who had anything to do with this — and that’s probably all of you — thank you very much.”

Schwing said basketball courts and trees added the last couple of years had also been publicly funded.

“That has left money for books and curriculum,” he said.

As the open house ended, teachers and other personnel, including Superintendent Loy Woelber, joined the celebration.

“Students came in to bring in all their school supplies and meet with their teachers,” fourth-grade teacher Sandy Carpenter said. “We all have a little checklist of things that we do. What’s really awesome is that we typically get 100 percent turnout.”

Carpenter said it’s amazing to see the school partner with the community and area businesses in the interest of students.

“Because of this town, the businesses here and the money that was put in for this and the other things they do in Lake Benton, students do not have to pay for field trips,” she said. “And every single grade gets to go on a field trip because of our Lake Benton Volunteers for Education.”

In his closing remarks, Schwing said the future looked bright.

“We’re all looking forward to the 2018-19 school year,” he said. “It looks like we’re off to a good start. Thank you again to everyone who contributed to this in any way. We’d also like your support going forward, for whatever else we might be doing.”

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