ICONIC FOR ITS COMMITMENT TO FOSTERING A LOVE FOR LEARNING AND INDEPENDENCE, THE SALISBURY SCHOOL CONTINUES ITS NEAR 50-YEAR TRADITION OF EMPOWERING FUTURE LEADERS
Gil Allen III had to crouch while walking through The Salisbury School’s historic tunnel, which reminded him that two decades have passed since the 30-year-old attorney last experienced the life-changing education that occurs beyond the Lower School’s beloved entrance.
Still, Allen instantly felt at home again, even after all these years, as he visited the picturesque 43-acre campus off Hobbs Road in Salisbury in November. As much as The Salisbury School has evolved since Allen first walked those halls as a 3-year-old preschool student, core values that have allowed the school to thrive for 48 years occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of not only Allen, a 2006 graduate of the Upper School, but also fellow alumni, current students and founders.
“The feel of it is very, very much the same, even 25-some years since I was going to school there. Having spent just an hour there, I could still see that very real sense of community,” said Allen, a Salisbury native whose family, like many others across the Eastern Shore, features three generations of Dragons from a school that celebrates its 50th anniversary in the 2020-21 academic year.
Gil’s father, now 69, was among the school’s first students, in 1970, who learned reading, writing and arithmetic in the basement of nearby St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, until the Lower School opened in 1973. Gil’s sister, Kate Dyer, 28, a graduate of William & Mary, and later Georgetown University, who’d spent 14 years at the school before graduating in 2008, now shares lessons learned at TSS with her students as a first-year English teacher at the school.
Now, with their own spouses, Allen and Dyer have children who are destined to be next in line at TSS.
“That says something about the school,” said Headmaster Bev Dearing, a longtime cornerstone of a faculty that proudly carries on the principles the school was founded on nearly a half-century ago — a progressive educational curriculum based on experiential, or proactive, learning that isn’t centered solely on traditional academics. “It’s much more than a school,” Dearing said. “Schools generally teach textbook materials. We teach our children how to be positive, productive citizens. I’ve never seen anything like it. It really changes lives.”
Dearing and her staff are eagerly preparing for the school’s upcoming semicentennial by first remembering the past. They have gathered memorabilia and testimonials that represent the heart and soul of a school formed, literally and philosophically, by parents who wanted more for their children and took matters into their own hands to make it happen. “We have photographs of people walking through the woods, clearing brush in order to build this building,” said Lois Colaprete, executive director of the school’s educational foundation.
“Literally, they started the school from scratch,” she said. “Everything they did, from the design of the building to the curriculum and the name of the school, was all incredibly intentional, to create the learning environment they wanted. So we want to make sure those elements that were so important to them when they founded the school are still at the center of what we’re doing here today.”
Annual events like the gala, the year’s biggest social gathering and fundraiser, will merge the past and present during the yearlong anniversary celebration, while providing an opportunity to maintain the school’s already strong financial sustainability moving forward.
Original founders are sharing fond memories for video interviews that will be unveiled during events. Yet, they remain actively involved in the school in many ways because, Colaprete said, “They still see the same things that drew them to the school in the first place. They still feel really passionate about The Salisbury School. They still really embrace that sort of intangible magic that happens here.”
Tradition meets evolution at The Salisbury School, and the path where they meet begins in the tunnel that leads young students into the Lower School. Headmasters from Eugene Munnelly to Dearing, who took over the position at the end of the 2017-18 academic year, have greeted students with a handshake and a warm smile every morning for 48 years because, Colaprete said, “It’s a really important time of the day when [students are] acknowledged as a member of the community, and they in turn acknowledge whoever is greeting them.”
The tunnel leads to the library that serves the Lower and Middle schools, or the Hub, as it’s known. Young students develop their natural curiosity into a passion for learning, and set a strong foundation for a complete education, through a love of reading fostered through unlimited access to all that’s inside of the library.
Students still feel like kids in Middle School, with scheduled recess each day. They also eagerly tackle academic challenges, including a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program that prepares them for the Upper School, and to everything the world has to offer for graduates of The Salisbury School.
The Upper School boasts a 100 percent college-acceptance rate, because students embrace a complete, and demanding, college-preparatory curriculum taught by a faculty featuring many teachers with doctorates on their résumés. They also receive consistent guidance on the path to making their collegiate choice.
“It’s extremely challenging,” Dearing said, “but there’s always this softness of support and caring that raises the kids to the level they need to be.”
Year after year, passion blossoms into a strong sense of self, with teachers intent on developing uniquely well-rounded students, offering guidance and encouragement, and classrooms without doors symbolizing that nothing stands in their way to a valuable education. Students also gain a sense of responsibility that drives them toward being “their own best version of themselves,” and helps them “realize how rare and special that is,” Dyer said.
There are no locks on lockers, because students respect one another. There are no hall passes, because students take the freedom to explore the school seriously. There is no competition among peers, because everyone wants everyone to succeed in their own way.
“It makes a difference knowing that people believe in you and what you want to do. It makes you want to live up to those expectations,” said senior Elsa Quillin, 17, of Berlin, who has taken a much different path to graduation day this spring than her older sister, Lila Quillin.
Lila Quillin, 19, a 2017 graduate, is an aspiring composer at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, while Elsa heads to college next fall to study mathematics and science. The journey at The Salisbury School is unique for every student.
“I was never forced into some particular box that the school wanted me to be in,” said Dyer, who gravitated toward music and theater as a student. “They encouraged me to develop my own interests, which I definitely did. The school gave me lots of opportunities to develop those skills. They gave me so much more confidence and knowledge of myself by having a place that was completely invested in me.”
Mike Quillin listened to Eugene Munnelly, the school’s first headmaster, vow to provide students with a “love of learning that will stay with them throughout life,” through a refreshingly individualized, proactive approach to education rooted in the Montessori philosophy.
“I had grown up going to traditional schools. The structure and the firmness and just the emphasis on learning the basics, I had been all through that,” said Quillin, 79, of Ocean City, who joined his wife, Judy, 79, in serving as founding parents while their sons, Mike Jr. and David, attended the school. “The Salisbury School was going to be a little different. It was just a more exciting concept to me.”
The Lower School opened in 1973, followed by the Upper and Middle schools in 1997 and 2005, respectively.
The curriculum and resources available to teachers and students, much like the campus, has evolved over the years. David Quillin, 53, an architect in Berlin, remembers moving furniture into the basement at St. Alban’s on Mondays to begin each school week and putting furniture away on Fridays before weekend services at the church. Dearing, who has served in various teaching and administrative roles in 27 years at the school, recalls operating Ditto machines to print copies of assignments for students.
Now, the campus has an outdoor classroom, to further enhance the educational experience, and students are issued or have access to Chromebooks, among other amenities. The focus in the Upper School is to prepare students for challenges they will face in college.
But year after year, the end result is the same. “People love learning for the right reasons, and they love being excited about something in the future,” said Kim Quillin, 47, a biologist at Salisbury University and author of a biology textbook who met her husband, David, at the school and enrolled daughters Lila and Elsa after moving back home to the Shore from Berkeley, CA.
Dearing expects the school to continue evolving over the next 50 years. “The thing that I know that will not change,” she said, “are the ethos that our founders started this school with. Because if they change, it’s not The Salisbury School anymore.”
THE SALISBURY SCHOOL
Where: 6279 Hobbs Road, Salisbury
Information: 410-742-4464, www.TheSalisburySchool.org
Founded: 1970 (Lower School—1973; Upper School—1997; Middle School—2005)
Grades: Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade
Headmaster: Bev Dearing
Students: 345 (approx.)
Decades of tradition:
The Salisbury School has developed many annual traditions over the past 48 years.
Here are a few highlights:
Handshake: Since its founding, students have been greeted each morning at school by every headmaster from Gene Munnelly to Bev Dearing and division heads.
Job Team: All students complete a job in school at the end of each school day, such as wiping down a chalkboard or putting books away.
Give and Receive Day: Upper and Middle School students work with Lower School students to complete projects that benefit community members outside of the school, such as reading to students in local public schools and making holiday treats for nursing home residents.
Experiential Week: Students and faculty team up for one week every school year in hands-on educational experiences. Past examples have ranged from serving with Habitat for Humanity and planting trees in Dorchester County’s Blackwater Refuge to helping rebuild the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and traveling to Scotland as part of Global Awareness Day.
Founder’s Day: Students connect with founders and alumni to learn about the school’s history and the impact many have had on it.
Gala: The social event of the year and important annual fundraiser allows for founders, alumni, students and their families to come together in support of the school.
Global Awareness Day: For the past three decades, students at The Salisbury School have traveled the world without leaving their academic home through a national award-winning program that brings everyone together to spotlight the world’s wonders on one unforgettable day.
The school culminates the 32nd year of promoting worldwide awareness on May 3, 2019, with a tribute to the African nation of Ghana. Faculty, students and parents from the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools will team up to learn about Ghana’s unique culture, such as music, dance, literature, food and geography. Students reveal what they discover at an event that annually attracts 400-500 people.
The planning committee chose Ghana the year after selecting the South American nation of Chile because, Global Awareness Day coordinator Hilary Lynch said, “We move from one continent to another every year, so we move around the world.” They also select a nation with history and culture that’s different from its predecessor. Then the committee goes to great lengths to provide students with a vast array of educational opportunities. This year, they have enlisted the help of two Ghana natives living in the Salisbury area.
Teachers begin to incorporate specific research and activities into lesson plans approximately six weeks before Global Awareness Day.
Students also enjoy special activities, which in past years have included dancers from Chile and Spain, a kickboxing demonstration (Thailand, 2014) and rugby lessons from Salisbury University’s team (New Zealand). Students create dishes and treats unique to that country, along with the dozens of parents who volunteer their time both in and out of school to prepare for Global Awareness Day.
“It’s a whole-year process, and we take one day and completely redo our school,” Director of Admissions Gail Carozza said. “We have activities, only eat food from that country. [Students] really live it, breathe it. These kids are really global thinkers. They know there’s a lot more out there because they actually experience it. They don’t just read about it and see it in a book.”