Start­ing With A Bang

Fire­works kick off Coun­try School ex­pan­sion

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­

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.coun­

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.

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