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'A special vibe': Twin Lakes celebrating 50th year of learning

'Twin Lakes has been a hub in the community for 50 years and we continue to grow and offer diverse programming,' says current school principal

With Twin Lakes Secondary School celebrating its 50th year in the 2022-2023 school year, one of the school’s original staff members says a "remarkable sense of community" and cross-department cooperation made the school a special place to work.

Fred Larsen taught at the school from its opening in 1972 through 2001, and he fondly recalls his time as an English teacher there.

“I don't think there was a day in those 30 years of teaching that, driving into school, I felt I don't ... want to go in today. That just didn't occur,” Larsen told OrilliaMatters. “I really enjoyed my career and I enjoyed working with the students over the years and my colleagues.”

Larsen said there were two principals over his tenure, Bob Mitchell and Mary Ellen Smith, that worked particularly hard to instill a team environment across the entire school, whether between academic departments, or even across administrative and custodial staff.

“There was a very strong sense across the staff, across the administration, and even across the office, that we were open to new ideas if it looked like they would improve the experiences at school that students were having,” he said. “You wouldn't be able to do that the same way if you had these strong walls between departments.”

Staff members took ownership of the school, Larsen said, continually working to make it a good place for students to be.

After five years of teaching at Twin Lakes, Larsen said staff worked together to make the last day of every school year a fun experience, bringing skits, musical performances, and tributes to colleagues to campus to ring in the summer.

“It just sent everybody home for the summer with a really powerful and good vibe,” he said. “(It was) something you could think about over the summer, and then you were looking forward to greeting those friends again in September when you went back.”

All of these qualities put together made Twin Lakes a special place to teach, Larsen said.

“It made for a kind of special vibe at the school for most of my years there, and I hope that remains,” he said. “I get the sense, occasionally, when I talk to people that are still working that it does to a degree.”

Current Twin Lakes principal Julie Richardson says the school — now the oldest secondary school in the city — is in the preliminary stages of planning a 50th anniversary celebration for April 28-29, 2023.

“We are very excited about celebrating this momentous occasion,” Richardson told OrilliaMatters. “Twin Lakes has been an instrumental fixture in the community for 50 years. We’ve heard from so many former students and staff who are looking forward to celebrating with us.”

Richardson, who has been with the school since 2018, said the school is working hard to re-establish its community environment and connections following the pandemic.

“Having endured challenges presented over the past few years with the pandemic, the importance of community connections have only grown,” she said. “We are very excited to once again be able to offer an abundance of co-curricular activities and to invite our families and community back into our school.” 

“We have recently updated our hospitality, automotive, and construction facilities to support our phenomenal technological education programming,” she continued. “We have also recently added Indigenous learning stations throughout the school to promote and ensure Indigenous knowledge and perspective."

Like Larsen before her, Richardson hopes to continue building upon the community environment built by the school’s original staff members.

“Education is a shared partnership among staff, families and the community. Twin Lakes takes pride in fostering these relationships and connections,” she said. “Twin Lakes has been a hub in the community for 50 years and we continue to grow and offer diverse programming to meet the needs of all of our students.”

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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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