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Sanibel School to celebrate more than 100 years of education

By Staff | Jun 3, 2010

Students of all ages and grades from The Sanibel School see what life was like for students a century ago at the island’s one-room school house. The former school is at the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village on Sanibel.

To visitors who come to the islands to enjoy its pristine beaches, tranquility and enchanting wildlife, the idea of permanent residents living an ordinary, everyday life here can seem, well, a bit surreal.

But businesses are run, fishermen work for a good catch, and children go to school throughout the normal school year.

Not generally one of the first things people think of when they think of these ‘resort’ islands, schools and education have a long history on Sanibel — about 112 years, actually.

Island schooling — which began in the late 1800s and continues today in The Sanibel School, a National Blue Ribbon facility — is being celebrated with a “Birthday” Party at The Mucky Duck on Captiva on Sunday, June 6, from noon to 4 p.m.

The community is invited to join the celebration which will feature family games and activities including a dunk tank, piñatas, a balloon toss, beach croquet, Slip-and-Slide, a tug-of-war, limbo dancing, a craft table, and live entertainment by island favorite Gene Federico. As part of the ticket price, YOLO Watersports — owned by Sanibel School parents Marcel and Betsy Ventura — is sponsoring Banana Boat rides for children over 48 inches tall.

“This should be a fun family event,” said Sanibel School principal Barbara VonHarten.

Of particular fun for children is the Banana Boat ride. The towable, inflatable boat can carry up to six people. “It’s a blast; people love it,” Ventura said.

The cost for the entire event is $15 for adults and $10 for children and includes food, beverages, and birthday cake. There will be fun on the beach and games for the children, a chance to soak “special guests” in a dunk tank, and a Birthday-Party-themed silent auction.

The fundraiser will benefit The Sanibel School Fund, a nonprofit organization that raises money to pay for programs such as foreign-language instruction and technology enhancements. According to a press report, fundraising by parents and friends to pay for these programs earned The Sanibel School the Blue Ribbon designation from the U.S. Department of Education some years ago.

The members of The Sanibel School Fund are kicking off their fundraising campaign with the “Birthday” Party at the Mucky Duck and then will be preparing for a large-scale alumni event in the fall.

Newly elected president Jeff Weigel said the birthday party will be a great way for families to get together while raising money for the school.

For sponsorship and other information, contact Debra Hobbs at (239) 565-0549.

Celebrating a long history

Rising to the level of National Blue Ribbon winner — from a one-room school house — is, as can well be imagined, a source of pride for the school.

Reading, writing and arithmetic in an organized classroom setting began in the late 1800s on Sanibel. Prior to that, Sanibel resident Laetitia Nutt taught children in her home, said Alex Werner, the president of the Sanibel Historical Museum & Village.

The Sanibel School’s one-room schoolhouse can be seen at the Historical Museum. That schoolhouse now belongs to the Museum.

Inside the schoolhouse wooden desks form neat rows. There is a large chalkboard, a piano, and a heavy rope hanging from the bell, a bell that still rings atop the building’s roof.

Life as a student during an earlier island life was a bit different from that of most northern-based people’s experience.

There were no snow, no slippery galoshes with all those buckles, no snowball fights at recess. On Sanibel children had to try and stay cool on the sweltering 90-degree days. Playing ball was not driven by scoring home runs — in fact, children were not allowed to hit home runs. Earning one gave you an automatic out! This rule came into play because of the wildlife hazards that abounded just past the hedges near the school. There snakes, and alligators could be moving about… hitting a ball that hard was a definite taboo..

“You had to learn to be a single hitter,” Werner said.

The first Lee County school was built in 1894. It burned down in 1896 causing a new school to be built. The new Lee County School was built on what is now the Bailey Tract and Periwinkle in 1898.

It would not be until 1962 when the current building being on San-Cap Road would be built.

For a long time, the school was racially divided. There even was a school — The School House for Colored Children — that existed from 1927 to 1962. But shortly before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law island folks felt all of their children black and white should learn in the same school.

When it opened, the present Sanibel School became the first racially integrated school in Lee County, Werner said. “That’s something to celebrate and be proud about.”

Werner encourages the community to learn more about the island’s education history. Last year the History Museum staff used a $3,000 grant to teach Sanibel history to students of varying grades during a field trip.

Today The Sanibel School is an elementary and middle school. The school is also a National Blue Ribbon Award winner — an indicator of a school’s overall excellence.

The school has an organic garden where students learn how to grow vegetables in an environmentally conscious way. The students participating in this program are called the Green Team. Additionally, at present, the Green Team is helping create booms made from recycled hair aimed at helping fend off the oil leak gushing in the Gulf. The School also have an involved performing arts program and specialty programs such as Spanish and Technology.

“The school just has such a rich history,” VonHarten said. “It has come along way from its beginnings to the turn of this new century.”