As the 30th anniversary nears of what started as the Pine Peace School, now known as the Gifft Hill School, former students are mobilizing to support their alma mater.
Led by chairperson and former student Abigail Schnell, a student reunion is scheduled for Saturday, December 29, at the Gecko Gazebo from 8 to 11 p.m. The soiree is the first effort to invigorate a new source of support for the school.
“With the 30th anniversary of the school coming up in fall 2008, the idea came about to reunite and bring together the former students and alumni of the Pine Peace School, the Coral Bay School and the Gifft Hill School, as it’s been known over the years,” said Schnell.
“Using the word alumni is difficult because not everyone graduated because the school grew with us,” Schnell continued.
Pine Peace School started as a pre-school in 1978 by parents who saw a need for alternative early education classes on island, explained Dorothy Muilenberg.
“We started the school because we wanted a good alternative pre-school and all of the people involved had children about the same age,” Muilenberg said. “At the time we were just thinking of a pre-school.”
“Some people wanted to think farther ahead to a small elementary school, but we grew really, really slowly,” continued Muilenberg.
The almost 20 pre-school age students were ferried between class venues before a permanent site was secured, Muilenberg added.
“At first we couldn’t find a place to be,” she said. “We had a few places at Pine Peace, then we had classes at Oppenheimer Beach for a while. We also had classes at the Catholic Church and even the Schnell’s house for a few months.”
A wealthy land owner finally came through for the fledgling school.
“A wealthy retired executive, Shailor Bass, gave us a half-acre with the provision he would give us another half-acre if we lasted for two more years,” said Muilenberg. “That was very exciting. It was about three years into it that we got the land and built the structure.”
Young students remember the first few years as an adventure, explained Schnell.
“I very fondly remember the Pine Peace School because we had so much fun there,” Schnell said. “We traveled to Oppenheimer Beach for school for a while and then my parent’s house and the Catholic Church beore we got the big school.”
One song in particular stood out in Schnell’s memory.
“You know those things that just stick in your mind and you remember forever,” said Schnell. “Every morning everyone would sit in a circle on the ground and sing this song. ‘Pine Peace School has just begun. No more laughing, no more fun. If you show your teeth or tongue. You will have to pay a forfeit.’”
“Anyone who remembers that song needs to be at this event,” Schnell continued.
Over the ensuing 30 years, what was the Pine Peace School grew into an elementary school and then a junior high school.
After operating out of the Lumberyard Complex for some time — and known for a while as the Coral Bay School — additional land on Gift Hill was secured and the upper campus was eventually constructed.
Finally the school grew to include high school classes and promoted its first graduating senior class in June 2004.
Since then the school has steadily grown and former students have gone on to universities across the country.
As the next generation of Gifft Hill School students mature, it’s the perfect time to start a student support and networking group, explained Schnell.
“It’s going to be a really fun holiday get together,” she said. “It will be really nice for everyone to reconnect and support the school for the next generation to come. We want to make the school a better place for our kids to go to next.”
The Pine Peace School/Gifft Hill School student reunion fund raiser will be on Saturday, December 29, at the Gecko Gazebo from 8 to 11 p.m. There is a suggested $10 donation and a cash bar. Gecko owners Michael and Barbie Barry are donating all proceeds to the school.
The evening is open to former students, former and current teachers and anyone who wishes to support the school.
“Anyone who wants to come out and support the school is welcome,” said Schnell. “We’re going to have a DJ and it’s going to be really fun. We’re also going to make a really exciting announcement at the event.”
The group has a $2,500 fund raising goal, which an anonymous donor has agreed to match if the event nets that amount.