At 9:14 a.m. on Friday, the typical ringing of the bell sounded the beginning of a day that no one had witnessed in the history of Minneapolis South High School: a teacher playing a role of a principal, and the principal taking over her classroom for a day.
The switch was part of an arrangement in which social studies teacher Laura Lanik wished to become "principal for a day" as one of the 50 things on her bucket list of things to accomplish before turning 51 in June. Ray Aponte, the school principal, gave the go-ahead and also agreed to teach her students for the day.
Lanik, who usually teaches world history and hands-on art subjects, began the day by standing in the building's central hallway to make sure students made it to their classes on time. This bigger responsibility, however, brought with it the anxiety about how she would be received by the students — though they knew the switch was happening.
"I am nervous because I am out of my comfort zone, where I interact with a limited number of students," Lanik said before she was greeted with a hug by Oliver Elias, one of her H-Art students.
"I want to be sure that they see me and I see them," she said while getting ready for the school's "Code Red," a five-times-a-year safety drill simulating a lockdown with all doors closed and the lights switched off until no one is moving around in the school corridors.
Supported by the principal's secretary, Karen Holly, and two assistant principals, Stephen Simondet and Isabel Rodriguez, Lanik checked the building to make sure everyone was inside the classrooms during the drill.
"I may not have wanted to be a principal, but, yes, I wanted to see what it looks like to be one," she said.
A teacher for 22 years, Lanik had compiled a list of tasks she wanted to complete as she moved on in life. With some achieved and others pending, becoming a principal for a day was No. 18 on the list. Going to see turtles in Grenada, trying a new spice (tamarind) and growing lemons on a tree have been checked off the list. The yet-to-dos include going to Paisley Park, a Pizza Farm and the Alexander Ramsey house in St. Paul.
As the day progressed, Lanik eventually had to make her first decision. A group of students wanted permission to shoot a Spanish music video on the school's roof.
After a conversation with the on-duty assistant principals, she decided not to allow the students to shoot on the roof, as it was deemed unsafe without a railing.
"It was indeed a tough call to make," she said as she sought help from her secretary on how to handle the walkie-talkie that the school principal carries.
Sitting in her ground-floor office, she was amazed that no one on her staff had any idea about the agenda for a 10:30 a.m. meeting.
"All I know is it's with the YMCA people," she said.
One floor higher, in room number 255, Principal Aponte was in Lanik's world history class. Aponte used to teach physical education and human sexuality before becoming a principal 26 years ago. Though briefed by Lanik, the challenge for him was to be familiar with the levels of learning of each of the 15 students in his class.
"Moreover, I don't want to waste the time of the students," Aponte said as he geared up for the third-hour class.
To begin, he marked the attendance, albeit in a different way, by calling every student's name with an 'are you here' suffix and asking them to respond by singing and clapping.
"Yes, I am here," each student answered back. Next, he reminded them to put their cellphones on the charging station. The last time Aponte was a regular teacher, there were no smartphones.
Picking up from Lanik's previous lessons on colonization, Aponte took the students through a trip to Cuba he took last year to help them understand the history of Cuba and the role the U.S. had played during the Spanish War, Cuban Revolution and all that followed.
"Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are the two most popular heroes there. Almost all schools have their posters on walls," said Aponte, who came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory neighboring Cuba.
Students enjoyed shaking things up a bit.
"It's been fun," said Aidan Patterson, a ninth-grader, but added that he would prefer Lanik as his teacher. His classmate, Helene Francis, agreed, adding that she would give the principal 7.5 marks out of 10 for his teaching skills.
Throughout the day, as Lanik made the rounds in the school, she was greeted by students and her former fellow teachers. She also checked into her old classroom, where Aponte was teaching. "Are the students behaving?" she asked.
After walking "five" miles in the principal's shoes, Lanik said she was "super intimidated" by the challenge. Still, she would want to do it again.
"It gives you a different perspective on how to run a school," she said.
Now, Lanik said, she can put a new check mark on the bucket list in her notebook.