A.C. Clark in lab school (1964)
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By The Bemidji Pioneer

Published 6:16 a.m. on July 28, 2019

The Bemidji Normal School once housed an elementary school, or Observation School as the first brochure called it, that served as a laboratory for future teachers. College students could simply stay on campus to receive real-life classroom experience.

“With so many student teachers available, they got a lot of individual attention and could do a lot of side projects because of the availability of student teachers,” recalled Kermit Bensen of Bemidji, who taught sixth grade at the Lab School for two years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “It was really kind of a neat deal. They were right there on campus. There were great opportunities for the kids and for the future teachers.”

Former Bemidji State professor Art Lee, who wrote the historical “University in the Pines,” observed: “President Deputy saw this observation school as the heart of a normal school.”

The school’s purpose was “to illustrate the best methods of teaching for the Normal School students enrolled,” said Deputy.

Lab school (1953)
Deputy Hall lab school (1936)

The school was originally housed in the campus Main Building, now known as Deputy Hall. In the 1950s, the newly constructed Education Building (now known as Bensen Hall) heightened Bemidji’s appreciation for the Lab School on campus.

According to university archives, “Parents considered it the premier place for their children to attend, and many former students continue to look back fondly on their experience. The story goes that one new dad applied for his son’s admittance on the same day the child was born. But in the face of competing college demands, the school closed in 1975.”

Brothers Mike and Randy Gregg, who now run the family’s business, Dick’s Plumbing and Heating in Bemidji, were students at the Lab School. Both went there from kindergarten through sixth grade, Mike finishing in 1971 and Randy a year later.

“One thing I can tell you about that place is we had just a radical playground out back,” Mike Gregg said with a chuckle. “I mean all the stuff that would no longer be considered safe at all. Big jungle gym, big swings. We tore around out there. I never remember anybody getting hurt.”

The playground wasn’t the only campus amenity that stuck in the students’ memories.

“The track was kind of a nice option,” Randy Gregg said. “That’s where we did our track and field events from the school. We just went through the gate and we were there.”

Lab school (1943)
Lab school (1943)


Jim Thompson, a retired ophthalmologist and current Bemidji City Council member, also was a Lab School student in the 1940s. His father, Carl O. Thompson, was professor of vocal music and chair of the music department at Bemidji State, so Jim remembers biking, walking and riding to school with his dad from their home just up the road on Birchmont Drive.

One of Thompson’s vivid memories was the Lab School’s basketball team going up to Ponemah for a game and getting clobbered 66-16.

Of course, it wasn’t all about fun and games.

Bensen, as one of the full-time professional teachers at the school, said it was interesting watching the “trainees” learn the ropes in a classroom setting.

“I think a lot of had to do with personalities,” he said. “You can’t be too easy going, but you can’t be too hard, either. You could pick that out.”

Written by Dennis Doeden

Lab school bus (1962)