Starting With A Bang
Fireworks kick off Country School expansion
EASTON — Perfect weather with a full moon was the setting, and an impressive fireworks display was the finale, of an evening celebrating “It’s Our Time,” the capital improvement campaign of The Country School.
About 480 people, including Mayor Robert Willey and his wife Betsy, gathered on the playing fields of the 9-acre campus on Goldsborough Street on Friday, Nov. 3, to help kick off the $8.5 million capital campaign.
“We picked the date a year ago; we’re really blessed (with the weather),” said Connie Alderfer, director of advancement for the 82-year-old school.
The kids picked up their goodie bags with glow sticks and snacks, and ran off to join their friends for “firecracker” Shirley Temples, while their parents and grandparents found their own snack bags and set up folding chairs or found seats on straw bales and benches that faced a slide show depicting the near future of the school.
“It’s just fabulous,” upper school math teacher Mandi Mielke said. “It’s just a fun party.”
Mielke and her husband, who are expecting their fourth child, send their other three children to the school.
About 290 students from four Mid-Shore counties attend the day school.
Thanking the large crowd, Head of School Neil Mufson said
the school is important to them but also to the community as a whole, “because families who choose to enroll their children here directly influence the quality of life in Talbot County.”
The crowd came to celebrate and kick off the expansion project, and they were eager to hear about the progress that has been made with campaign fundraising efforts.
“We know that we all hold high aspirations for our children,” Mufson said. “And it’s now our time to have equally high aspirations for our campus.”
Following a short video about the school, Mufson told the crowd, “We know that this is a very generous community, but frankly, we were uncertain about our ability to pull this vision off because, let’s face it, a 9-plus million dollar building project is a huge lift for a small school like ours.”
The “ambitious working goal and target (of $7 million) for the entire campaign was set about a year ago ... double the size of our last campaign,” Mufson said. “But we’ve had incredible success so far with our early fundraising efforts.”
“Tonight, I can announce to you that our goal is much higher than $7 million,” Mufson said. “In fact, our ambitious stretch goal for the ‘It’s Our Time’ campaign is $8.5 million.”
Near the end of the program, nine fifth-graders mounted the platform with cards with numbers that they flipped, one by one, beginning on the right, to reveal the amount raised so far: $7,630,416.
Those who have made a financial commitment to the campaign include all the trustees, faculty and staff, Mufson said.
The “impressive and significant” pledges the faculty and staff have made total $223,435, Mufson said. “They also know that it’s our time.”
For 28 years, Mufson has been part of the school, greeting each child as he or she arrives each day.
To honor Mufson’s tradition, sitting on the platform was a 3-D printed model of the “Hand Shake Clock and Bell Tower” designed by students of upper school science and STEAM teacher Adele Showalter. The tower is a key design element of the new addition.
“Neil’s dedication and love for this school and our children is undoubtedly why we have such a quality school,” The Country School’s Board of Trustees President Justin Nonemaker said. “His near 30-year tenure has provided the guidance and advice and senior leadership that we desperately need in a campaign of this magnitude.”
Mufson returned the compliment, saying Nonemaker’s leadership was “absolutely key to everything we’ve accomplished up to this point.”
Mufson has seen three building campaigns during his tenure.
“First we built the library, the after-care wing ... and the lower school wing,” he said. “Each project was necessary and enriching, and absolutely right for its time. Now it’s impossible to envision our school without those spaces. That’s what we’re going to feel about what we begin to accomplish tonight.”
Founded in 1934, the K-8 private school soon will expand with the construction of a new, two-story, 20,000-square-foot brick building to house the upper school, grades six to eight, and a relocated, enlarged and improved parking area and carpool loop.
Construction of the new traffic circle will begin by June 1, 2018, and be finished by the start of school in September next year.
The current school also will renovate 5,000 square feet in existing buildings, including an expanded STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) curriculum and instructional space classrooms for kindergarten to fourth grade.
The slide show looped design sketches of the school’s planned additions and improvements. Mufson called them “the most visionary and transformational in the school’s history, or at least since 1941 when our trustees at that time decided to move the school from an old, rickety hotel in the center of Easton to this location on Goldsborough Street, which then was the country.”
The fifth-grade class, under the direction of music director Ryan Catterton, sang “It’s Our Time.” A six-member band comprising members of the The Country School community accompanied the children.
Catterton, who has taught for 15 years but is in his first year teaching at The Country School, said, “It’s been nothing short of incredible being here. I’m very thankful.”
“The Country School of today is warm, welcoming, personal and vibrant, but we know that we’re constrained by the spaces that we have,” Mufson said.
“But I want you to assure you that even when we build this spectacular new building, our school’s strongest points are going to remain its culture, its atmosphere, its faculty and program and the relationships between teachers and kids,” Mufson said.
The 20,000-square-foot upper school addition will front Goldsborough Street. Currently, 60,000 square feet are under roof in single-story buildings behind the one facing Goldsborough Street.
The current facility was built on what was then farmland in 1941. The new twostory building will be ready for the 2019-2020 school year.
“This was lovely,” said Christy Gibson, who chairs the building project campaign committee. “It’s so nice to see everyone support the school.”
Gibson’s sons are in third and fourth grades at The Country School.
“They’ll be able to enjoy the new upper school,” she said. “The boys are excited.”
Also excited about the school’s future for their firstgrader Mary and secondgrader Bennett were Will and Lee Gordon.
But notable, too, was the fireworks display by Digital Lightning of Gaithersburg.
“It was a pretty impressive grand finale,” Will Gordon said.
“I don’t think anyone can sum it up better than my kids,” Showalter said. “They said, ‘Mom, our school is the best. They were the best fireworks ever, and all my friends watched them with me. And we had Shirley Temples. Can’t beat this Friday.’”
For more information about the school’s capital campaign, go to https://its ourtime.countryschool.org.
Follow me on Twitter @connie_stardem.
Students take in the fireworks show that kicked off the The Country School’s expansion project on Friday, Nov. 3.
Eighth-graders Aidan Loeser, Josh Campbell, Colin Lang and John Short helped celebrate the planned expansion of the The Country School on an unseasonably warm Nov. 3.