For more than a half century now, La Lumiere School has provided a top notch education to students not only in La Porte County and Indiana, but the world.
But what struck me most about the school when I was given a tour last month was the breathtaking campus.
Sitting on about 160 acres near the Indiana-Michigan border in La Porte, the campus has several multi-use buildings, a peaceful lake and stellar venues for athletics. At first glance, visitors would likely assume La Lumiere is a University, not a high school.
Alex Penry, administration office coordinator at La Lumiere, said 40 percent of the school’s 221 students are boarding students. 15 percent of them are international students, she said with 17 countries represented from around the globe.
“That really shows our multi-cultural aspect,” Penry said as she pointed to a section of the school library that showcases the flags of all nations with students that attend La Lumiere. “We have a great cultural aspect at the school,” she added, noting that a student from the Ukraine will add another country to the school’s always increasing global reach.
La Lumiere opened in 1963 by a group of business professionals in Chicago who were looking for “a better educational option” for their children, Penry said. At the time, La Lumiere’s first class only had 13 students, who all graduated four years later.
The school opened with only one building, the Moore House, which still stands as the home of the school cafeteria and nurses office. All classes were held in the one building. Since then, the school has grown constantly, as 62 graduates made up the class of 2013 and another 54 graduated from the school this year. There are also several buildings now located on the campus, which is completely surrounded by the beautiful nature of the Michiana area.
“Headmaster (Michael) Kennedy) has done an excellent job spreading the word about La Lumiere and has been more persistent and dedicated in provide a stellar experience for our students,” Penry said. “People are starting to know about La Lumiere. And it doesn’t hurt that the Chief Justice of the United States attended here.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts is so proud of La Lumiere, he agreed to return in 2013 to deliver the keynote speech at commencement. There, he told the graduates to remain focused on the three core values they learned at La Lumiere: character, scholarship and faith.
So what makes La Lumiere unique? Just about everything.
At the beginning of every school day, the entire student body will gather in the Fine Arts Building to hear the morning announcements as a group. The building is also the host of all the school’s drama and musical performances with the walls decorated with class photos of every graduating class the school has had. It’s a bit of a Wall of Fame, as once you complete your schooling at La Lumiere, your photo is etched in the place forever.
Penry herself is a La Lumiere graduate from the class of 2003. She said she was one of 30 who graduated that year, proving that the incline in students has progressed steadily throughout the decades. She points out the tight-knit La Lumiere community, noting that she got married on the campus, utilizing a wedding photographer (Amy Straka) that also graduated from the school.
The Sullivan Center on campus is “a nice place for the students to hang out,” Penry said, pointing out the room has a comfortable couch with a television and ping pong, pool and foosball tables. The school store is also located in the building that is completely surrounded by trees.
The school is also known for their strong academic programs. Foreign language is near the top of that list, with offerings of Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese and Latin.
“We have a fabulous couple of faculty members who are fluent in Chinese, so it was wise for us to take advantage of that,” Penry said. Latin, she noted, is not offered at almost all traditional high schools, but is in fact quite common at boarding schools throughout the United States.
“It’s a popular class,” she said. “When people know Latin, it is easier for them to pick up other foreign languages and learn more about their own language too. It’s all forward thinking.”
The school’s art program is also top of the line, with students from the class of 2014 alone being accepted to prestigious institutions such as the Savannah College of Art and Design, Rhode Island School of Design and the Maryland Institute College of Art.
“Art is required for all incoming freshmen. We have 2D and 3D studio classes,” Penry said.
Rebecca Hunt, the school’s art director, is “phenomenal and very passionate,” Penry added.
The science olympiad team also has a history that can’t be topped. In 22 years of existence, the club has qualified for state, you guessed it, 22 times.
Needless to say the school has a 100 percent graduation rate and perfect college acceptance rate. Of all-time, that is. Students are regularly accepted into the best schools in the country with Columbia, Cornell and the University of Michigan as popular choices. Two students from the class of 2014 are headed to South Bend to attend the University of Notre Dame.
Lake La Lumiere is a perfect setting to either take in some nature by listening to the birds or taking out one of the boats or kayaks that are stored in the summer months right on the lake’s shore near the football field.
A story on La Lumiere would not be complete without a mention of their boys basketball team, which is one of the best high school programs in the country often traveling long distances to take on other teams of their caliber. They have been profiled as the showcase high school game on ESPN several times.
“They are playing on a national stage, but most of their games actually take place here on campus as other teams will travel from far away to play them here,” Penry said. Even parents of non-basketball players enjoy attending the games as one of the campus' can't miss items.
The amount of energy that is generated from the student body is “electrifying,” Penry said, recalling a game last year that was televised and had students “screaming” in the recreation room cheering on their Lakers. “There’s a lot of pride there,” Penry said.
While everyone at La Lumiere has that ‘Laker pride,’ the inner-school rivalries are developed every year through the Headmasters Cup. At the start of each school year, students are selected at random to join one of four teams - Moore, Bunting, Webster and Sullivan - named after the school’s four previous headmasters, and compete for points throughout the year in traditional sports, unique clubs and fun activities such as pumpkin carving and a twinkie eating contest. At the end of the year, the competition concludes with the announcement of the team that garnered the most points. This year, Sullivan took home the prize in a landslide - earning their second cup win after winning it in 2011.
“It’s a great thing to see the competitiveness and teamwork,” Penry said. “It’s also a great way for all students to get to know one another.”
Other interesting facts about La Lumiere
With students from all around the world, La Lumiere offers boarding homes with dorms available for non-commuter students, much like a university.
A free open period is offered to all of the school’s honor roll students, of which there are many. Incoming freshmen have a study hall hour that they turn into the free period once they make the honor roll.
Every student is required to take part in at least one extracurricular activity, whether it’s one of the 15 varsity sports offered or a club.