The community of Baraga started when Captain James Bendry’s ship was grounded due to a winter storm on his way to Houghton from Sault Ste. Marie. Bendry arrived in 1850 and began our community.
In the beginning, the schools in Baraga County were parochial, as both the Methodists and Catholics had their church schools. Bishop Baraga and his successors began a school in an orphanage in the community of Assinins. In 1861, Father Therhorst and the sisters of St. Joseph built the first public school, which remained open until 1957.
The public schools of Baraga began in Captain Walford Been’s home on Main St. The first school was built in 1869. School District No. 1 was established in 1881 six years after Baraga County was formed. Members of the first school board were Captain James Bendry, Anthony Gerard and Thomas McGillan. Seventy- seven pupils from the ages of 5 to 21 enrolled in the ungraded school system in 1885 – 1886.
The same year Baraga was organized into a village, the first graduation exercises were held on July 1, 1891 at the town hall. There were only two graduates in the class of 1891 – Emma McRandle and Mary E. Doran. Before this time, all schools were ungraded and pupils moved from one reader to another as they progressed in ability. At this time, Superintendent W.C. Schafer graded the grade system grades 1 through 10.
The first school built was soon overgrown by the school population and they built a new school in 1892. The new school had two floors, two rooms on each floor. Room #1 was for primary or chart class, Room #2 was for the 2nd and 3rd grades, Room #3 was for the 4th and 5th grades, Room #4 was known as the “High School” and held grades from 6 through 10.
By the year 1908 the school was too small so the beginning classes were moved to other locations.
On June 15, 1909 an election was held for the purpose of issuing bonds to build a new 8 room modern brick school in the Village of Baraga to be completed by August 1, 1910.
School buildings were not limited to just the village. One-room house schools appeared in various locations throughout the district. Those being: Pelkie, Arnhiem, Bellaire, Falk, Girard, Grist Mill, Heusa, Keweenaw Bay, Kokko, Kostamo, McMahon, Newtonville, Pelto, Pine Creek, Sturgeon River, And Wallant.
In 1931, an election was held to sell bonds for the construction of a school at Pelkie and the addition of a gymnasium to be built onto the high school. In 1932 they added a gymnasium, a library, a study hall, a laboratory and much-needed classrooms to the Baraga High School.
Also that year saw the completion of the new Agricultural School in Pelkie and many of the sub-districts were consolidated into this new school building, thus making rural one-houses a thing of the past. Students from the Alston area started to attend Baraga High Schools to complete the 11th and 12th grades and remained a part of our system until they annexed with L’Anse schools in 1966.
In 1944 the board considered reopening of the primary grade school. The War Productions Board and State Dept. approved the building of a new vocational shop. Tools were received from the State Board of Control for Vocational Education for the Farm Machinery Repair Course at Pelkie, North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges again placed Baraga Township Schools on the accredited list.
In 1957 the board inspected the Baraga Armory to study the possibilities of its use in connection with educational programs. From that time until the school was built in 1982, many of the athletic events were held in the armory along with the graduation exercises, proms, and other school activities.
Construction of the new elementary school started on April 24, 1967. On August 11, 1968, the new Philip LaTendresse Elementary School was dedicated. Mr. LaTendresse, after whom the new school was named, was one of the highest tributes ever bestowed upon a Baraga graduate. This came in 1966, when the Cary-Lift, which he invented, was named the 1966 Michigan Product of the year.
With the opening of the new elementary school, once again the students were under one roof. The students of Keweenaw Bay area were transported to Baraga, thus closing the school in that community, which has been in operation since 1909. The former school was deeded by the board of education to the township for a community building and fire hall.
In 1969 the citizens of Elo-Tapiola area wanted to have Portage Township School District annexed to the Baraga Schools District. The board approved in annexing this property and the students became pupils in the Baraga Schools System.
From 1969 to 1978, many additions were added to the expansion of our school system. Among them were 1. the vocational technical education concept, 2. a cooperative training program with L’Anse Area Schools, 3. the reactivation of the football program, 4. the Title I program, 5. the Johnson O’Mally program, 6. the successful staging of three Broadway musicals: The Sound of Music, Carousel, and Oliver. The board also raised the number of required subjects needed for graduation from 16 to 20 and named the expanded recreation area the Dr. R. S. Buckland Recreation Area. At this time the 4th and 5th grade students were transferred to the Pelkie School, the school breakfast program was begun, and the new vocational education building was complete.
In 1980, it was decided that the high school building had outlived its usefulness and would be a waste of money to try to repair. In the spring of 1980, the people of Baraga Township and annexed Portage Township voted in favor of the new high school. Ground breaking for the new school was held on May 28, 1981 and the following year the students moved into a new building.
Baraga is an excellent Class “D” school. In contrast to it’s beginning when it was limited to the students in the village and one-room schools, we now have an enrollment of approximately 555 students, and encompass an area of 181 square miles. Because of the large area served, roughly 75% of the students are bus students riding one of eight busses owned by the school district.
Grades 7-12 have a curriculum offering that meets University of Michigan Accreditation Standards and the North Central Association of Secondary School Guidelines. In addition to the basic classes offered at each grade level, special education, remedial programs and counseling are offered as well as access to vocational classes in the L’Anse Area Schools.
Also in contrast with our beginning, we have a staff that consists of 36 teachers, 3 administrators, 3 secretaries, 4 cooks, 9 bus driver-custodians and a number of teacher aids in the Chapter 1, bilingual classes, Indian Education and Johnson O’Malley Programs.
The years since our school system was formed are ones in which we, as a community, can be proud of. We thank the administrators, school board members, teachers, school employees and members of the community, past and present, whose dedication has made our system as outstanding as it is today.
Our hope for the future is continued success in the education of our young people.
We’re loyal to you Baraga High
We’re steadfast and true Baraga High
We beg you to stand against the best in the land
For we know you’ll ascend Baraga High ….Rah-ray!!!!
So swing into line Baraga High
You’re coming on fine Baraga High
There’s nothing to stop us ever, if we just pull together
And we will win Baraga High….Rah-ray!!!!