Sunday, July 23, 2017  

Aylett Contry Day School Celebrates 50 Years


Celebrating 50 years of teaching and impacting young lives, Aylett Country Day School began in 1965 as several families came together with a vision for a concentrated learning environment. Bette Gwathmey, along with her husband, Dr. Owen Gwathmey had the dream of opening a school with small classrooms that could provide individualized attention in a caring, sound environment. They wanted an environment that would offer a challenging curriculum along with an emphasis on art, music and athletics.
The Gwathmeys invited fellow parents Philip Minor, Frances Dillard, Merle and Helen Longest, Margie Mallory, Allen White and Mary Evelyn Acree to meet and discuss the goals and direction of their children’s education. By August of 1966 they had recruited support from families in several surrounding counties, including King and Queen, King William, Essex and Hanover, forming the first Board of Directors. With no money to begin, these parents rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
Mrs. Gwathmey interviewed and hired teachers while Dr. Gwathmey personally guaranteed teacher salaries for the first year. Books and blackboards were ordered as Mrs. Gwathmey and Mrs. Dillard designed a curriculum using the Collegiate School’s curriculum as a guide. Their dream became a reality on September 12, 1966 when 33 students became the first to attend Aylett Country Day School in the old Walkerton Hotel.
One month after the opening of the school was the first annual Country Fair. It was held under the leadership of Mrs. Gwathmey and Mrs. Shirley Parker. The Country Fair raised approximately $2,300 to supplement the school’s meager budget.
However, the first year was a success and year after year the school continued to grow. By 1970 the cornerstone was laid for the new school building to be constructed on the land in Millers Tavern that had been donated by the Gordon Lewis family of Tappahannock. With an outstanding debt of $74,000 on the new building, Earl Longest devised a fundraising campaign that became known as “Mission Impossible.” Longest pressed fellow Board members into action and ten fundraising teams were formed. Almost every patron of the school supported the campaign and by February 15, 1972 pledges totaling more than $76,000 came in and the note 
was burned.
With the debt satisfied, the school was able to move ahead. In 1976 an 8000 square foot gymnasium was built and named for founder, Dr. Owen Gwathmey. In 1977, the school purchased seven adjoining acres so they could hold their renowned Country Fair on the school grounds.
As Aylett continued to grow, they broke ground for a new middle school building in 1989. Raymond Atkins was the Board President at the time, and he served as contractor, chief fundraiser and bookkeeper for the project. Atkins was on campus almost daily, supervising the work and meeting with Mrs. Suny Monk, Headmistress, about classroom design and fundraising. Atkins was instrumental in raising enough funds to have the building paid for by the time building was completed.
Under the construction leadership of Tim McKinley, additions were made to the buildings in 1998 and again in 2007. The upgrades included preschool classrooms, administrative offices, a lunch room, locker rooms, renovating the gymnasium and more.
Parents have played a major role in the history of Aylett. Since the first Country Fair, they have worked tirelessly on an infinite number of fundraisers. Parents have served as Head of School, cleaned toilets, swept hallways, planted and pruned bushes and trees, and painted walls, as well as bookcases and almost all of the furniture throughout the school. They have repaired broken equipment, as well as donated used and new equipment, such as computers, furniture, and kitchen appliances. In addition they have substituted for teachers, provided special programs for students, and driven to countless field trips and athletic events.
Aylett focuses on a well-rounded, holistic approach to education by encouraging talents in music, art, drama, and sports. Many students have excelled and graduated from high schools as valedictorians or salutatorians. Former students stay actively involved with Aylett through the Alumni Association.
Robin Taylor is the current Director of Alumni as well as Director of Development. Taylor has been working at Aylett for 28 years, starting out in the classroom and moving into an administrative position in the office. Taylor has had two sons successfully graduate from Aylett. When asked about the hope of continuing success for Aylett, Taylor said that “Aylett will continue to look to the future as they continue successful past traditions.”
Along with the continued success of the Country Fair, Aylett participates in many area festivities to fund the school. It organizes a local golf tournament and Rockfish Tournament. It also sets up a booth at the Urbanna Oyster Festival, and every spring serves oysters and pork at its own Shuck and Pork Spring Festival.
Currently Aylett has 34 legacy students; that is, students of alumni. Aylett graduates maintain strong and lasting bonds with each other as well as the school. They stay in continued touch through Facebook and Alumni programs, and their Spotlight section, that tells the stories of previous graduates. With this year’s being their 50 year anniversary, Aylett is planning an all-school reunion this spring, inviting students from the last 50 years to come together and celebrate the legacy of the school.
There are reminders of this year’s 50th celebration of Aylett throughout the school year. On the 50th day, the school plans fun by dressing up in 1960’s fashion and performing trivia at an afterschool party. The middle school will host a 1960’s trivia event where participants will answer questions about the decade’s music, movies, and famous moments.
The founding families are honored guests at Aylett and a long standing tradition for the School. The longest standing employee of Aylett was a founding parent, Shirley Elliott. Mrs. Elliott retired only two years ago from driving the bus. She had four children graduate from Aylett, as well as several grandchildren. Elliott worked for Aylett for 48 years and is highly admired and loved. Another long standing employee is Dale Turpin, who has been there for 30 years. She has had two children, as well as two grandchildren, attend Aylett. Currently Turpin’s daughter is a teacher at Aylett.
Aylett continues to encourage new growth by keeping tuition low and competitive. It offers bus service and serves seven different counties. This year Aylett introduced a new program where they raffle one free year of preschool for a new student. It also offers the Discover Scholarship to one new middle school and one new lower school student, with 50% off tuition for three years. Interested students apply by writing an essay that answers the questions, “Why do you want to be a student at Aylett?” and “How would an education through Aylett benefit you?”
Currently Aylett serves 3 years of preschool, offering one class for each of the following age groups: 3 year-olds, 4 year-olds, and 5 year-olds who miss the cut-off date for attending kindergarten. Then, they offer classes for kindergarten through eighth grade. There is one class for each grade with no more than 20 students per classroom. Aylett classrooms average from 12-18 students, depending on the year and enrollment numbers 
for the year.
The success of Aylett has been the involvement of the students and parents, but it also has heavily depended on the high expectations and achievements of the teachers. The Gwathmeys set high expectations for the education of the students who were to attend Aylett and that standard has continued at Aylett. Teachers at Aylett are team players, creating a healthy working atmosphere for themselves and for their students. They are motivated, self-starters and create challenges in subjects by incorporating life experiences, as well as local environmental opportunities into the curriculum. Aylett Country Day School is led by Headmaster Jim Rice, who has been serving the school for the past four years.
The mission of Aylett from the beginning has been an education that would carry students far beyond their education, developing life skills for continued success. Consistency of quality and dedication has never faltered at Aylett, continuing the dream of the Gwathmeys and the founding families. Hard working Board members, dedicated teachers, supportive parents, and great students have perpetuated the Aylett Mission of offering academic excellence in a nurturing family setting. The school continues to teach the whole child, build character, and foster traditional values such as integrity and citizenship. 

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