Miami Country Day School didn’t start out as a matchmaker when its founders opened its doors 75 years ago.
But for several families, the school, and its “whole student” approach, altered lives.
Laura Morgan Horton, an attorney who specializes in estate planning and probate, laughs when she recounts her first date with now-husband Mallory.
“I was visiting my parents and he asked me out to dinner. When we started talking about, ‘Where did you grow up?’ whatever I said, he said, ‘Me, too!’ I was getting suspicious. I’d never seen him before.”
The ‘Me, toos’ kept coming. When Mallory, then an Air Force Academy grad and currently a pilot with United Airlines, asked where she had attended school, both chimed in unison: Miami Country Day.
“Now I know you’re lying,” Horton remembers telling her astonished date. There were 17 people in her graduating class of 1983. She knew everyone.
That’s when the couple found out there was a six-year age difference. Mallory, 54, graduated from Miami Country Day’s ninth-grade class in 1977 before the school added a high school component, and he went on to graduate from Miami Edison Senior High.
“There was so much overlap,” Horton, 48, said. Favorite teachers. Shared philosophies.
Three dates later, he proposed. The couple married six months later, have been together for 24 years, and are raising three children — ages 16, 14 and 11 — in Coral Gables.
There have been 2,431 graduates since 1981, the first year Miami Country Day had a 12th-grade graduating class, and 1,229 graduates between 1938 and 1980.
On Saturday, many of these students’ stories and those of their teachers will be shared as the independent private school on the outskirts of Miami Shores celebrates its first 75 years with a birthday party in its new Katherine E. Franco Center for Learning Resources.
At the gathering, the school plans to unveil a timeline of significant events, dating to that day in September 1938 when L.B. Sommers and C.W. “Doc” Abele opened the facility as Miami Country Day & Resident School for Boys. That first year two teachers educated nine boys.
Today, 18 current teachers and administrators at the coed institution have been with the pre-K-12 school for 25 or more years.
John C. “Jack” DuBois, for example, would begin his career at Country Day in 1954 teaching history and Latin and, at 86, remains active as an alumni advisor. The Hortons both had DuBois for Latin.
“We loved learning Latin from him,” Laura Horton said. “He was always entertaining. My husband had him also for football. It’s funny, we didn’t grow up together but we lived these parallel lives and had these shared experiences. He talks about something and I know exactly what he’s referring to. That’s unusual in Miami since we are so transient.”
The 75th anniversary is “a great time to take pause and celebrate as the school has a wonderful history,” said Head of School John Davies, a 28-year-veteran. But it is also a time for action.
“Moving ahead, what is it we need to be doing now to make sure we are meeting the needs of our students,” he pondered.
Miami Country Day, like other schools, has had to keep pace with rapid technological advancements. A $10 million “Securing the Future” campaign in 2005 helped the school expand and add the Franco Center in 2010.
“This is the most fun, the best time, to be in education since the invention of the printing press,” Davies said. “It’s a challenge. Technology has upended the whole equation and has created endless possibilities. Technology is integral. Brain research is making us rethink our long-held assumptions about teaching and learning. When we recently revised our mission statement, one of the elements we put in is the idea of lifelong learning. That’s always been there, but lifelong learning means something very different than it meant 25 years ago.”
Fredlyn “Fredi” Rosenfeld, the school’s English teacher since 1979 and one of its documentarians, hopes some things from the past aren’t abandoned in the next 75 years.
“I take great pride in the English language. I love it and want to ensure that it will remain with us because right now we are in a technological age and so much is cut short,” she said. “So much is a matter of being short and fast as opposed to prolonged and considered carefully. That’s something I’m a little apprehensive about.”
Rosenfeld, 69, recalls a lecture from author Kurt Vonnegut years ago in Miami in which the famed writer hugged his book to his chest and said he did not do the same to his computer. In a new world of smart phones and social media accompaniment to bedroom and bathroom, Vonnegut’s message wasn’t lost on Rosenfeld.
“I’m at an age where I sense the changes a lot,” she said. “At the same time, there is so much available now communication-wise. Our students are very lucky to have all these resources, and because of technology, we are able to communicate with people all over the world a lot faster and create more friendships and ties. At Country Day, we have been able to engender in our students the desire to expand — to learn whatever they can within the classroom and expand upon that.”
As such, the college preparatory, interdenominational school’s mission has fostered a blended focus of intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual aesthetics. Five years ago, a “Kinder to College” mentorship program was put in place so that the school’s senior students take an active role in guiding the youngest.
“The older children are almost parenting in some respect,” Rosenfeld said.
Students from the Abess Center for Environmental Studies at Miami Country Day School — where tuition ranges from $17,100 for pre-K to $31,440 for grades 9-12 — have helped develop solar cooking ovens using materials like foil-lined shoe boxes, pizza boxes and sawed garbage cans. Through web casts, the students, who represent 41 different countries, have teamed with schools from Turkey to Russia to teach and promote the low-cost, environmentally-friendly means of cooking. In addition, they have raised funds to pay for solar cookers for Afghan refugee camps that are capable of cooking 500 loaves of bread an hour and 1,200 meals twice a day.
That level of outreach, “I’m proud of that,” Rosenfeld says.
New international students this school year, numbering 63, represent 23 percent of the school’s new population and come from territories including Switzerland, Canada, Argentina, Italy, France, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Japan and the Bahamas.
But, of course, it all comes down to education — now and for the next 75 years.
“I had some fabulous teachers,” Horton said. “Fredi Rosenfeld, there’s no one like her. I’d get my paper back and it was covered in red ink from all these corrections. She was tough, but she taught me to write. I could go on from there to college and to law school and feel confident I could write. She gave us the tools we needed.”
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