by Jim Boyle
The 2010–11 school year at Elk River High School got off to disastrous start with allegations of hazing and a string of suspensions that made headlines on the 10 o’clock news for weeks on end.
Members of the class of 2011 decided early on, however, they were not going to let what had transpired and the fallout from it derail their senior year.
They decided as a group they were going to move on and make the most of their final year of high school.
Several commented that knowing the students who were involved took the edge off some of the allegations that were circulating. They accepted, however, that mistakes were made. They say students in Elk River and elsewhere learned a lesson. And most of all what had happened was not going to define them.
That’s why you won’t hear a lot about the troubling turn of events at commencement exercises this Friday at Elk River High School.
“Things were stacked against them,” said Karl Sagan, a history teacher who has been selected by the senior class to speak. “They didn’t dwell on it. They agreed they needed to get past it and they needed to do it together.”
Senior Class President Emily Ecklund described the start of the year as a bumpy ride — one that got smoother as time wore on and student leaders quietly found a way to come together and work for common goals.
“We worked hard to bring out the positives,” she said, noting that’s still important as the year winds down. “Bring out the positives.”
That’s one of the reasons those speaking Friday won’t be talking about how the year got started but rather how it finished and how it has positioned the class of 2011 for success.
Elk River High School Principal Terry Bizal and Assistant Principal Ken Jordan describe the class of 2011 as a laid back bunch — one filled with a lot of strengths on the part of individuals representing various areas of interests.
They point to continued success of students in Kathy Ellefson’s culinary arts program, Sonja Weiler’s DECA students who competed at nationals, and artists and performers who won awards and put their talents on display at the recent Evening of the Arts and this past week’s Starfest.
Although the Elks may not have had a banner year athletically compared to the other years, they still finished strong stacked up against the conference counterparts.
Developing stronger, more vocal student leaders will be on the agenda this coming year, Bizal said. The school will kick off a new student leadership program that all future sports and activity captains will have to go through to qualify for these designations. The class of 2011 learned some of the lessons on leadership the hard way — through adversity.
“I see these kids going out and doing very well,” Jordan said.
“I think there are going to be a lot of surprises in the future,” said Ecklund, who plans to attend Concordia College in the fall and play soccer at the school.
She said she foresees people like herself coming back to the community of Elk River after furthering their schooling and giving back to the community in various ways.
Senior Nick Wellman, who plans to pursue a law enforcement degree, describes his class as “solid.”
He says as a rule they don’t judge one another and they have been able to overcome adversity that way.
“I’m not proud of what happened, but we were there for each other to back one another up,” he said. “We weren’t going to cry over it. That could have derailed our year. I can honestly say I’m proud to be an Elk.”
There was never a shortage of school spirit, students say.
“We made homecoming a very positive time,” said Ethan Sass, a senior who plans to pursue a double major in music and history. “That really helped get the negative stigma out of the atmosphere.”
Students, teachers and administrators agree this latest crop of students has taken longer to mature than previous classes. But they are no less optimistic about their futures.
Sagan plans to offer 11 essential pieces of advice to the class of 2011.
He is in his fifth year at Elk River High School, having taught 10th grade American history and 11th grade world history each of the years. So he taught most of the seniors as sophomores and juniors.
He describes the class of 2011 as one with strong personalities, one that’s also funny, outgoing and sometimes mischievous. He’s also noticed they go out of their way to say hello and help out.
Sagan says as the group matures, true leaders will emerge. They already exist and have shown flashes. But they have led primarily by example.
“Some don’t even know they’re leaders,” Sagan said.
Seniors like Haley Foggia, Katie Hanson, Allison Tacheny and Nash Bleyhl seem to agree.
“We will have a positive influence on society,” Hanson said.
Elk River High School
Senior class enrollment:
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday June 3 (Tickets required)
Where: Elk River High School gymnasium, 900 School St., Elk River