‘The Sandbox’ is ready for Gillispie School students to dig into learning

Gillispie School's "The Sandbox" expansion is complete and open for students.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Gillispie School in La Jolla has completed “The Sandbox,” a 17,000-square-foot expansion to help blend subjects for its students.

The extension includes a new 7,000-square-foot building just north of the main campus at 7380 Girard Ave. It houses a multipurpose room that will function largely as the private school’s first dedicated theater space, along with a music room, a kitchen, a science and design center and classroom space that will soon become a library.

The rest of the project includes adjacent outdoor spaces that contain lunch tables and a maker deck, along with a parking lot.

Gillispie, which has 300 students enrolled in preschool through sixth grade, began construction on the new space in June 2020 and finished in July 2021, before the start of the school year Aug. 31.

Gillispie School's new 7,000-square-foot building
Gillispie’s new 7,000-square-foot building houses a multipurpose room that will function largely as the private school’s first dedicated theater space.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The name of the expansion has a double meaning, according to Assistant Head of School Jon Bluestein.

“Obviously, the sandbox that we know of is where children play,” he said. “If you watch a couple of 3-year-olds in our sandbox … they’re experimenting, they’re building, they’re trying stuff or they’re messing up stuff and redoing it and are working together.”

He said the second meaning of “sandbox” is taken from business terminology, when employees are asked to test a new application and told to “mess around [and] tell us what’s wrong, what’s good.”

Bluestein said “our goal in our programs, both in early childhood and elementary, is to not kill that spirit [of creativity and willingness], and so we want this building where we have all our specialty teachers collaborate, giving the kids all these hands-on opportunities.”

“We feel like this space has really allowed us to do that better than before,” he said.

Head of School Alison Fleming said a sandbox is “all about figuring out where your creative solutions are going to come from.”

To that end, the newly constructed spaces, like the maker deck where cardboard, glue guns and other materials abound, are intended to encourage integration of subjects, she said.

"The Sandbox" also contains a new music room.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“It’s really important that children don’t think of it just as a science extension,” Fleming said, “but you may be doing something in social studies [as well]. The best inventions come from trying to solve a problem from a different subject line.”

The kitchen, Bluestein said, with counters and sinks at different heights for various age groups, will function as Gillispie’s normal spot for making hot lunches but also will be “a great opportunity” for students to learn life skills and science.

What the school “tried to do [with The Sandbox] is have there be so many different opportunities, things for kids to try,” he said. “Maybe it sparks something and by the time they leave us and go to middle school, they’re ... bakers or they’re builders or musicians. We felt we wanted to have this extra space to really develop that.”

Fleming said “the whole point is, can you make education hands-on, and what can you do to make it even more hands-on? We really do believe that the specialty classes like science and design, art and gardening really give [students] a feel for owning their learning. They’re not passive learners but really hands-on.”

Gillispie was started in 1933 by Ada and Sam Gillispie to serve hot meals to children of single or working mothers, Fleming said. It became a school on its current site in 1953.

Two of the doors of an original building on the site are now in Gillispie’s teachers lounge as tabletops “to preserve … our heritage,” Fleming said. “Seventy years is a long time.” ◆