Bad economy has good effect at Gillispie


At the Gillispie School’s annual fundraising gala, director of development Nancy Torns made a spur-of-the-moment decision to recruit early childhood teacher Theron Royer to help pitch a playground improvement auction item to the more than 250 parents, guests and teachers in the audience.

Royer had spent more than two years visiting and researching state-of-the-art early childhood facilities in anticipation of a capital campaign to rebuild the existing Gillispie facility. However, that plan was derailed by a bad economy. So with the support of Head of School Alison Fleming, the playground auction item was conceived.

As Royer stood before the audience he spotted long-time friend and former Gillispie parent Michael Rossbacher in the audience. Rossbacher happens to be a general contractor.

With $25,000 raised at the gala, Royer’s vision for a renovated early childhood playground facility had just been made possible by the generous donation of Gillispie families.

Within days of the event, plans were in place to begin work right after graduation to ensure completion by the start of school in September. Royer spent countless hours analyzing every square inch of the early childhood campus for ways that it could become more useful and fun for the children.

Included in the outdoor renovation would be a new art area, dramatic play stage, interactive gardens, play kitchen, building block center, enhanced sand and water area, and a more early-childhood friendly sports court, all focused on giving the young students a positive outdoor learning experience.

When asked why he would donate so much of his valuable time to rebuild a school that his children no longer attend, Rossbacher said, “It is the foundation of their education. Plus my children and I now count Gillispie families as some of our oldest and dearest friends.”

The school offers classes for children age two through sixth grade. It is not uncommon for children to spend more than 10 years at the school, building friendships that last a lifetime.

With the majority of the work completed before the start of school in September, the Gillispie early childhood teaching staff eagerly awaited the return of the students and parents.

As expected, the children were truly amazed at the transformation. No longer were students all confined to the traditional play structure and bikes. They played using their imagination and found more options for creative activities focusing on cooperative rather than competitive play.

The teachers say they have also found the children have increased fine motor strength due to additional art time on the playground.

The playground renovation is a continuing work of art with the recent addition of stage curtains and a whole wall mural painted in just one weekend by Gillispie elementary art teacher Susan Walters.

The Gillispie School is at 7380 Girard Ave. in La Jolla. Call (858) 459-3773 for information.