Can the Beach School Be Saved?

Dated: October 19 2022

Views: 161

Although Beach Elementary is still standing, the damage to the buildings and the classrooms appears to be extensive.  The school, for many years, was the center for community gatherings.  I was lucky to attend the school in the 1950s and then to watch my children enjoy the same learning experience over forty years later.  I hope this brief history of the school will bring pleasant memories to all of those who were fortunate enough to spend time in these classrooms.

Prior to 1937, children on the island were bussed to the Iona School on McGregor.  Thanks to many dedicated mothers, the first beach school opened in the Mayhew Page cottage at 2563 Cottage Street. One teacher oversaw the 27 first, second, and third grade children.  She was paid $80 a month by the school board.  Parents took donations to pay for rental of the cottage, which was still standing before Ian (I am not sure of its status today, but as it was on the beach side of Estero, I don’t have high hopes that it has survived.)  In 1938, a two-room schoolhouse was built on Sterling Street.  Another teacher was added to the school which now housed grades one to six. When the population of the island increased during World War II, a lunchroom was added behind the school which also served as an additional classroom.  In 1943 another teacher was added, and by 1949, the old school closed, and the new school opened on School Street.

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The original building had six classrooms, and a large auditorium with a stage. In 1955 a cafeteria was added as well as an administration office and additional classrooms.

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This is the third Beach School opened in 1949.

Growing up on the island, the school was a gathering place for families.  I can still remember the names of each teacher I had for the six years I spent at the Beach School.  My mother was the “permanent substitute” at the school for many years, and I was lucky enough to get to know some of these dedicated educators on a personal level.

When my children attended the school in the 1990s, I realized that little had changed.  The school was still a special place with a hometown feel.  Everyone knew each other and it was like a private school. I was thrilled when my daughter was in Winnie Yordy’s class.  I was in her class when she was a first or second year teacher.  Angie was in her class as she was looking towards retirement.

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The school has seen damage from the storm.

In its heyday, the school housed over 300 students.  Today, Beach Elementary is struggling since so few families could afford to live on the island.  Many of the students who attend today are the children of people who live off island but work on the island.  The last I heard, the student population had decreased to less than 100 students in five grades. 

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Water and wind damage to the classrooms.

As of this posting, the future of Beach Elementary remains uncertain.  I can only hope that the building can be saved and the school can continue to be an important part of the island community once rebuilding begins

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Ellie and Bob Bunting

Ellie has returned to real estate sales after spending the last 40 years teaching English at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers She has teamed up with her husband, Bob, who has been a....

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