Friday, July 21, 2017  

Aylett Country Day School
when dreams come true ...

Imagine having a vision that would benefi t many children, and then having it become reality within six months. That is exactly what happened when Mrs. Bette Gwathmey, along with her husband, Dr. Owen Gwathmey dreamed of creating a school for elementary students that would provide a sound, concentrated learning environment with small classes and individualized attention. The school would not only offer a challenging curriculum; it would enrich its program with emphasis on art, music and athletics. The school would be available to all qualifi ed students regardless of race, creed or color. That dream became reality when the doors to Aylett Country Day School, housed in the old Walkerton hotel, opened for the fi rst time on September 12, 1966 with thirty-three students.

Mrs. Gwathmey’s vision became a mission in March, 1966 when she invited fellow parents, Philip Minor, Frances Dillard, Merle and Helen Longest, Margie Mallory, Allen White, and Mary Evelyn Acree to meet with her and Dr. Gwathmey to brainstorm the possibility of starting a school. By August, they recruited support from other interested families in King and Queen, King William, Essex and Hanover counties and formed the fi rst Board of Directors. There was no money—not a penny, but with a

Dr. Gwathmey personally guaranteed teacher salaries for the fi rst year and Mrs. Gwathmey interviewed and hired teachers, ordered books and blackboards, and donated a piano. Mrs. Gwathmey and Mrs. Dillard designed a curriculum using the Collegiate School’s curriculum as a guide.

One month after school opened, the fi rst annual “Country Fair” was held under the leadership of Mrs. Richard (Betty) Gwathmey and Mrs. Shirley Parker. The Country Fair raised approximately $2,300 to supplement the school’s meager budget.

This was just the beginning… The school continued to grow in size. By 1970, the cornerstone outstanding debt of $74,000 on the Come True… When plan to open in September this group of dedicated parents literally rolled up their sleeves and went to work. was laid in the new school building constructed on land in Millers Tavern donated by the Gordon Lewis family of Tappahannock. With an new building, Earl Longest devised a fund raising campaign that some called “mission impossible.” Mr. Longest pressed fellow Board members into action. Ten fundraising teams were formed. Contributors signed a pledge agreement specifically stating that no cash would be spent nor pledges collected unless the goal was reached by February 16, 1972. Almost every patron of the school supported the campaign. By February 15, pledges totaled $76,702.53 and the note was burned.

With that debt satisfied, the school could move ahead. Fulfilling a part of the original vision for the school, an 8000 square foot gymnasium was built in 1976. The gym was named for founder, Dr. Owen Gwathmey. In 1977, the school purchased seven adjoining acres so they could hold their renowned Country Fair on school grounds.

The school’s physical plant continued to grow with the ground breaking in February, 1989, of the new middle school building. Mr. Raymond Atkins was Board president at the time. He served as contractor, chief fundraiser and bookkeeper for the project. Mr. Atkins was on campus almost everyday supervising some part of the work or meeting with Mrs. Suny Monk, Headmistress, about classroom design or fund raising. On the weekends, he and a loyal group of Board members and friends traveled to fish fries, crab feasts, and other fund raisers in the area towing a boat, jeep or whatever they happened to be raffling at that time. Mr. Atkins was instrumental in raising enough funds to pay for the building by the time it was completed.

The school continued to grow with additions in 1998 and 2007, under the construction leadership of Mr. Tim McKinley, by providing upgraded preschool classrooms and administrative offices and then a lunch room, locker rooms, renovated gymnasium, Spanish classroom, music room, and a larger library, respectively.

From the very beginning, Aylett Country Day School has had a responsible, working Board. Clarke Worthington, a much beloved headmaster during the seventies, remarked in one of his annual reports to the Board, “The Board of Directors has always amazed me with the financial rabbits it has pulled out of hats. I have come to believe that with this school, anything is possible.” This statement exemplifies the very spirit with which the school was created and has been proven true many times throughout the history of the school.

Parents have played a major role in the history of Aylett. Since that first Country Fair, they have worked tirelessly on an infinite number of fundraisers. At least two parents, Mrs. Suny Monk and Mr. Mark Eastham, have served as head of school. Parents have cleaned toilets, swept the halls, planted and pruned bushes and trees, painted walls, bookcases, and practically every piece of furniture in the school. They have repaired broken equipment and 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 on countless field trips.

Parents have provided the school with generations of great students. Many of our students have excelled academically. The students are well rounded with talents in music, art, drama, and sports and have garnered awards in each field. Many have gone on to be the valedictorian or salutatorian of local high schools. Former students stay actively involved with the school through the Alumni Association which is under the direction of Mrs. Judy Allen.

The backbone of Aylett Country Day School is its teachers. High expectations for teachers were set early with Mrs. Gwathmey and they have not changed. Aylett’s teachers are team players and have created a healthy working atmosphere for themselves and for their students. They are motivated, self starters and make learning challenging and interesting by “spicing up” subjects, by incorporating their travels to other countries, and studies of the Chesapeake Bay into their curriculum. Throughout the school’s history, they have prepared students well for school after Aylett. The quality of an Aylett education has never faltered thanks to consistently dedicated educators.

Mrs. Gwathmey’s dream and the mission of those founding families continue to be a reality for preschoolers through eighth grade students after forty-one years. The actual mission of the school that they created has never changed. 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.

Dreams do come true. Aylett Country Day School and its many students are living proof of that fact.