In the early 1950’s when people drove down 97th Avenue in Kendall, they saw a pig farm.
But when Deville “D.A.” Albury and Lorraine Lones drove down the same street, they saw a dream.
They imagined a ranch-style school for pre-kindergarten education. And the two University of Miami education graduates were determined to make it happen.
Twenty acres and a whole lot of yard work later, the Loneses opened Pinewood Acres School in September 1952.
“They started with no money, no investors and a dream,” said son and current owner Lee Lones. “At a time where pre-school education was unheard of, my parents believed 3- and 4-year olds could get in a rhythm and enjoy education.”
The for-profit school, which now serves 280 children in pre-K through seventh grade, celebrated its 60th birthday on Wednesday.
In its first year, Pinewood, named after the pine trees that covered the campus, enrolled 20 3-year-olds and a like number of 4-year-olds, who were taught by D.A. and Lorraine themselves.
The Lones family and their two sons Lee and Larry, showed their immense dedication to their school by living in the same building in which they taught.
And that dedication did not end there.
As the school grew, D.A built homes for the families of the teachers hired at Pinewood. School director Jennifer Lones says that’s how her grandparents began the strong family-orientated foundation that Pinewood prides itself for today.
“Having the families so close to the school at a time where women weren’t really in the workforce gave my grandparents a sense of the teachers’ work ethic,” Jennifer said.
That work ethic was magnified by the proximity of their homes to the school.
“If a student needed extra help, the teachers stayed late,” Jennifer said. “If they saw my grandfather painting the school on the weekends, either they or their husbands helped if they had the time. It’s been a community and family effort from the very beginning.”
That family-community effort shined brightest amid devastation.
In 1992, weeks shy of Pinewood’s 40th birthday, Hurricane Andrew struck Miami-Dade County. Nearly all the trees on campus were blown down.
Shortly after the storm, friends and family from North Carolina arrived in Miami to help clear the grounds and reopen the school.
Even in a time of need, Pinewood still found a way to give back.
“The people from North Carolina came to my house and moved all my furniture,” said Suzanne Lee, who has taught at Pinewood for 32 years. “They stored it in the music room while my house was being rebuilt. We are always looking out for each other.”
With the help of family and friends, the school was able to open just three weeks after the storm.
Pinewood has expanded to middle-school education and will be opening an eighth grade in August 2013.
Although the school has grown, the Lones family have still maintained the core values that has kept families coming for generations.
“They felt like they belong. This is like a second home to them,” said Lee, speaking of her three children and three grandchildren who have all attended Pinewood. “It’s owned by a family, it’s run by a family, and they treat us like their family.”
Other teachers agree.
“I want to be here and I’m glad I’m here,” said Connie Mirando, who has also taught at Pinewood for 32 years. “I’ve been here for this long because this is the place for me and I think any teacher would agree there’s no better place to work.”
Music to their ears
Jennifer Lones says her grandparents believed that children would learn best by being an extension of the family. But there was another key ingredient: the arts.
“We don’t compromise educational standards but at the same time we let kids be themselves,” she said. “Since the beginning, our family has encouraged music and the arts because it helps enhance academics and learn at a quicker pace while also practicing their skill at something they love.”
And on its 60th anniversary, Pinewood wants to continue to share not only their school values but also their campus with neighboring communities.
Although the school itself is a for-profit business, the owners have set up a non-profit organization, the Pinewood Educational Foundation, to raise money for scholarships and to offer free classes to the community on weekends.
“Our goal has been to give back to those who do not have the ability for a private education,” Jennifer said. “This would allow kids in the community to come in and take dance and art classes as well as get extra school tutoring.”