Th eHi s t o r yo f Th eP i l o t S c h o o l 1 9 5 7-1 9 9 9
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TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction ……………………………………………………………. Page *** Chapter One ………………………….….. Page 1 How It All Began The world of 1957 --page 1 The Founders’ stories --page2 Chapter Two ………………………………..…… Page 5 Three School Settings Christ Episcopal Church, Greenville: 1957-1959 1003 North Bancroft Parkway, Wilmington: 1959-1965 100 Garden of Eden Road, Talleyville: 1965-present Chapter Three ………………………………..…… Page 12 Growth of Academic Programs Curriculum --page 12 Testing, evaluation, strategies --page 15 Pilot parents --page 16 Getting the word out --page 17 Getting older and younger --page 20 Financial aid --page 20 Moving up and moving on --page 21 Chapter Four ………………………………..…… Page 23 The Arts at Pilot Music --page 23 Theater --page 27 Art --page 27 Chapter Five ………………………………..…… Page 30 Physical Education Growth of the sports program --page 31 Running --page 32 Swimming --page 33 Field Day --page 34 “PE In Our Schools” --page 34 Sports and outreach --page 35 Chapter Six ………………………………..…… Page 36 Students Away from School School trips --page 36 Pilot Associates Program --page 38 Children’s outreach --page 39
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Chapter Seven ………………………………..…… Page 42 Home and School “Welcome to The Pilot School” --page 42 Dollars for scholars --page 43 Golf tournament --page 44 Chapter Eight ………………………………..…… Page 45 The Circus Comes to Town An idea is born --page 45 The gala kick-off --page 46 Everyone had a job. --page 46 Chapter Nine ………………………………..…… Page 48 The Pilot School Looks to the Future Continuity --page 48 Change --page 49 Challenges --page 50
HOW IT ALL BEGAN The world in 1957 In April 1957, the month The Pilot School was founded, “I Love Lucy” and “Our Miss Brooks” were captivating television viewers, “Twelve Angry Men” was showing at the Loew’s Cinema, and Food Fair was selling chuck roast for 29¢ a pound. Although some stores had begun to migrate to the suburbs, Wilmington shoppers still headed to Braunstein’s on Market Street for fine ladies apparel and to Wilmington Dry Goods for bargains like muslin sheets for $1.79 each. That spring, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” had won the Academy Award for Best Picture and French philosopher Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
1957 was a year of change.
Recognizing the growing impact of the automobile,
Wilmington broke ground for the city’s first parking garage. The much-disputed route of I-95 through the city was finalized. Downtown merchants worried about traffic flow to their shops and fretted over farmers who still sold produce from trucks at the weekly King Street Market.
In the realm of special education, a symposium at Hunter College identified a range of diagnostic categories available to practitioners—brain-injury, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, emotional illness, and mental retardation. Inclusive as it appeared, the list was noteworthy in that it did not include a category for children with any sort of learning differences. There appeared to be no recognition of dyslexia or attention deficit disorder or other impediments to learning, although by the end of the 1950s, psychologists and educators had begun to examine such issues as assessment of learning disabilities, intervention techniques, and remedial strategies, particularly focusing on children with reading problems. The local press in Wilmington reflected the same limited view of special education. When reporters wrote about special education, they restricted their definition of “handicapped children” to pupils who were deaf or blind or physically handicapped.
In this seemingly barren environment, Mrs. R. R. M. [Mary Kaye] Carpenter, Jr., was keenly aware of the needs of children with learning problems because her son, Keith, was struggling with an apparent inability to read. Her sensitivity to such needs prompted her to begin looking for a program or technique that could offer him help to overcome the challenges he faced in his main stream first grade classroom. The founders’ stories Mrs. Carpenter’s daughter attended the Tatnall School and when her son had serious problems in his classes at Tower Hill School, Mrs. Carpenter consulted with Mrs. Robert L. [Josephine G.] Myers who was the head at Tatnall. They realized that they needed to find out what sorts of programs existed in the world of special education that might help address the boy’s needs and use that information as the basis for planning their next steps.
Mrs. Carpenter and Mrs. Myers cast their search across the country, contacting university departments and schools with special education programs. It became clear that few schools offered what they sought and their search became one for candidates suitable to direct the work of a new school. Of each department chair or school head or educational specialist they contacted, they asked for guidance in setting up a program to provide effective education for children with learning problems.
It is hardly surprising that Mrs. Carpenter was effective in her search for help for her son. The Carpenters had been instrumental in forming the Delaware Association for Retarded Children in 1953 after one of their sons was born with mental retardation. Now Mrs. Carpenter turned her time and attention to the challenges of learning disabilities. A woman of immense energy and imagination, she was well prepared to take on the challenge of organizing an experimental school to provide educational services to children who were facing learning challenges. Once she had assumed responsibility for leading the project, she continued to provide both moral and financial support, eventually enlisting a number of community leaders to help guide the school’s establishment, growth, and development.
Nor is it surprising that Mrs. Myers provided the insightful assistance that she did. After her graduation from Mount Holyoke College in 1923, Mrs. Myers had joined the staff at the six-year-old Tatnall School, at the time a small girls’ school operating in a house at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Rodney Street in Wilmington. She served thirteen years as a teacher before being promoted to principal in 1943, a position that she held until her retirement in 1964. During her tenure, she oversaw the transition of the Tatnall School into the coeducational institution that it had become by the time Mrs. Carpenter sought advice for her son.
Mrs. Myers made good use of her educational expertise and connections, visiting local “Special Progress” classes and contacting guidance and testing professionals to get advice on an appropriate plan of action. She also moved quickly to find suitable facilities for the first year of the school’s operation, persuading the Episcopal bishop of Delaware and the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Greenville to help the fledgling program by providing classrooms. Mrs. Carpenter’s efforts to find a school director bore fruit. As it turned out, the right program and person were close at hand.
The University of Pennsylvania had an
experimental education program that seemed to be close to what the proposed school needed. Mrs. Carpenter and Mrs. Myers made a visit to the university, where they met Doris LeStourgeon. Miss LeStourgeon, a native of Philadelphia, had earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Rutgers and, after being employed as a social worker and teacher in New Jersey, returned to the classroom as a student in the master’s program in educational psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Before coming to Wilmington to head The Pilot School, she worked at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Illman-Carter School in Philadelphia. By the time she was done with her educational endeavors, Miss LeStourgeon had also attended classes at Columbia University, Temple University, and Syracuse University in the United States, as well as at the University of Edinburgh and the University of
Innsbruck. She selectively enrolled in a variety of courses that together provided her with the specialized education she needed to craft an educational program for her special pupils.
Together the three women launched the project that would change the face of special education in Wilmington.
THREE SCHOOL SETTINGS Christ Episcopal Church, Greenville: 1957-1959 When school opened in September 1957, Miss LeStourgeon and her assistant, Audrey Wunder [later Audrey Wunder Spencer], gathered in the Sunday School rooms of Christ Episcopal Church in Greenville to meet the five little boys who were their first students. They called it The Pilot School because it was truly a pilot project, undertaken for one year as a tentative model for future directions in educating children with learning problems. Because the school began on an experimental basis, the church facilities provided the ideal setting, two large, airy classrooms otherwise unused during the week and available at the modest cost of $50 per month. During its first two years, the school relied on weekly visits from an art teacher on loan from Wilmington Friends School and, for physical education classes, the students traveled twice each week to the Tatnall School.
1003 North Bancroft Parkway, Wilmington: 1959-1965 The school operated at the church for two years, but, as the enrollment grew to eleven children, still all boys, the parents concluded that, while the educational work being done might still be experimental, the school itself was going to endure. Out of that vision, the parents sought a more permanent home for the young institution. By September 1959, The Pilot School was in its own building at 1003 North Bancroft Parkway, a solid, threestory, mansard-roofed house on a corner lot. After the parents found the house, they raised the money to purchase the building. They pitched in to add a fire escape, peel wallpaper and paint walls, and assuage the concerns of neighbors so that, when the school was ready to open, it was welcome in the neighborhood.
Twenty students, including the first girl, and three teachers had at their disposal eleven sunlit rooms that proved satisfactorily flexible to accommodate the needs of the small student body. Miss LeStourgeonâ€™s dog, Too, greeted the children each morning, waiting on the front lawn for the pupils to arrive. On the ground floor, the living room provided
space where the students assembled each morning at 8:00 a.m. to recite the pledge of allegiance, sing a patriotic song or two, and share news and announcements. The dining room served as a classroom. The staff gathered around the kitchen table for meetings. Eventually, the basement area was devoted to art lessons and projects and to recreational activities.
The second floor had four bedrooms that became classrooms and Miss
LeStourgeon occupied the three-room apartment on the top floor.
During the six years the school was on Bancroft Parkway, the parents paved the back yard to provide a playground suitable for tetherball and games. The parkway outside the front door offered space for baseball and other sports activities. The students also went to Rockford Park, where the boys played football and the children flew kites.
children’s parents also purchased a second-hand Volkswagen bus that they painted “school bus yellow” to provide transportation for the young pupils when they went on the many fieldtrips that were part of their curriculum.
Even when the school had been at Christ Church, the children had enjoyed outings away from the schoolroom, taking trips to the Delaware Art Museum, Hagley Museum, Brandywine Springs Park, and other local destinations. After the move to Bancroft Parkway, the students went on overnight camping trips and traveled to more distant destinations, such as Williamsburg, Virginia, and Mystic, Connecticut, as well as to other parts of Delaware.
In the spring of 1963, seventeen applicants had to be refused admission because the house on Bancroft Parkway lacked space to accommodate them. It was readily apparent both from the growing demand for Pilot’s unique services and from the steadily increasing enrollment that the school needed more room. As early as the spring of 1961, the Board began considering what size the student body might eventually be and imagining what sort of building would be needed and what it would cost. In September 1962, Henry Evans, educational director of the Vanguard School in Paoli, Pennsylvania, was a guest at a Board meeting. The Vanguard School provided educational programs for learning disabled students and Evans had been invited to discuss with the Board of
Trustees whether The Pilot School should expand and, if so, when. Evans’s advice was for immediate expansion.
At the time, there were thirty students and seven staff
The third and final move for the school came as the result of efforts by the Board, headed by Donald Notman, a DuPont Company executive who assumed the Board presidency in 1963. Mrs. Theodore B. Strange, a parent and Board member, who had previously chaired the committee that raised the funds to purchase the Bancroft Parkway property, again headed the Building Fund Committee. During the autumn of 1962, the Trustees grappled with issues of money—the cost of renovating an existing building versus the cost of new construction, the comparative maintenance costs of each option, and what sort of financial burden in the form of tuition increases any expansion would require. After a year of discussions, the Board finally reached the decision to erect a new school. The Trustees then considered a variety of potential sites, settling eventually on a fifteenacre tract on Garden of Eden Road in then undeveloped Talleyville.
When the architectural firm Fletcher and Buck designed the building, great care was taken to include the staff in the planning process. As the teachers considered the details of the initial plans, they discovered that the architects had included no closets in the design, an omission that was quickly remedied. The staff provided input on room design, necessary equipment, and paint color preferences and the Board made every attempt not only to satisfy the teachers’ requests but also to do so with the best materials and furnishings.
By spring 1965, it was clear that the new building would be ready for the start of school in the autumn. On the last day of school, all forty students, eight teachers, and school director, Miss LeStourgeon, traveled to Garden of Eden Road to see the work in progress and, on 14 June 1965, the Board held its last meeting in the house on Bancroft Parkway.
100 Garden of Eden Road, Talleyville, 1965-present The Trustees decided at the beginning of the planning process that the school’s growth would be gradual and that filling the school to capacity immediately was not a goal. In the autumn of 1965, school began in the new building with forty-four students, nine teachers, two part-time teachers, and a part-time librarian. From the very start, the student-to-teacher ratio had been low, averaging four or five students to each teacher. In order to grow, it was necessary to train new staff in The Pilot School’s philosophy, approach, and methods if student needs were to be satisfactorily addressed. Thus, the enrollment grew at a steady but relatively moderate pace during the first decade in the new building.
At the same time, however, the Trustees recognized that demand for the sorts of services offered by the school continued to grow and they responded to the increased demand by adding to the building as funding and need dictated. In 1966, having just opened the new school building, the Trustees began discussing what the next phase of building should be, focussing their conversations on the construction of a swimming pool and on expansion of the facilities to allow provision of academic programs for older students. Under Miss LeStourgeon’s leadership, the school’s educational program had expanded to include children up to the age of fourteen years. For this reason, the Trustees determined that the new classrooms needed to be about 50 percent larger than the original classrooms “because of the size and activities of the students to be accommodated.” By the start of school in 1969, the Board hosted an open house to show off The Pilot School’s 75,000square-foot classroom addition and full-sized swimming pool. On the evening of the open house, the Board surprised Mrs. Carpenter by unveiling a plaque recognizing her clear vision and her great contribution to the school. “The Pilot School,” read the plaque, “Started in 1957 for boys and girls who learn best in small groups, Guided by the staff who teach the wonderful things in the world worth knowing, Built by friends in the community under the original leadership and continued support of MARY KAYE CARPENTER to whom this school is dedicated by action of the Board of Trustees, March, 1969.”
By 1985, the Trustees again viewed classrooms filled to capacity and felt the pinch of sustained demand for Pilot’s special services.
The Board’s Building Committee
recommended the construction of a new wing to house art and science classes and a new library, as well as the conversion of existing art and science rooms into classrooms and the library into counseling and testing rooms. With the same resolve and energy that they had mustered previously, the Trustees crafted a fund raising program that made their dreams a reality, opening the new rooms for the first day of school 1987. Only the multipurpose room was not complete, although it was ready for the students’ holiday musical presentations in December. Soon after the original school building was completed, it became clear that a caretaker’s house was needed for the site. In 1966, the Trustees ranked a caretaker’s house at the top of their building list and they went forward with plans for the four-room cottage that was completed the following year. Wanda Cumens occupied the house for twenty-five years until her retirement in 1992.
Mrs. Cumens had been part of The Pilot School family since the days when five little boys and two teachers first gathered at Christ Church, where she had been the caretaker who looked after the church classrooms that the first students used. When the school moved to Bancroft Parkway, the janitorial service engaged to clean the school proved unsatisfactory, so the Trustees hired Mrs. Cumens to take care of the classrooms there. With the final move to Garden of Eden Road, Mrs. Cumens relocated with the rest of the staff, assuming responsibility for cleaning the school, for opening it each morning, and closing it each evening. But her service to the school also extended to greeting the children as they arrived to start each day, meeting the various unexpected needs that each day brought, joining the Lower Division1 for lunch each day, dispensing hugs and
When the school first moved to Garden of Eden Road, there were two wings to the building. The younger children were called the Lower Wing and older students, Upper Wing. Eventually, a third wing was added to the building and the pupils were divided into three Wings—Lower Wing, Middle Wing, and Upper Wing. Since the late 1990s, the groups have been referred to as Divisions—Lower Division, Middle Division, and Upper Division.
wisdom, and setting a good example to children. In 1992, the students dedicated their yearbook to her, thanking her for being part of their lives. The caretaker’s house, enlarged and reconfigured, became Miss LeStourgeon’s home in 1993 after Mrs. Cumens retired. When Miss LeStourgeon retired in 1998, the Board made the decision to provide needed security for the property by renting the house to a police officer. Soon after the 1968 release of the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine, the students and staff, at the suggestion of a Pilot teacher, obtained a “retired” railroad tank car, thoroughly cleaned it and painted it yellow, thus bringing the yellow submarine to rest on the south lawn behind the building. Over the years, the property’s appearance has been the result of collaborative efforts among students, parents, and school administration. In 1980, for example, the Home and School Association provided live Christmas trees for the lobbies and then later planted them by the entrance drive. In 1991, the children planted an oak tree in memory of Ian McIlvain, a pupil who had died in a skiing accident. As part of their education on the environment, students created a wild flower garden on the corner of the property near the Brandywine YMCA.
Under the guidance of their science
teachers, they erected birdfeeders and nesting boxes and planted butterfly and hummingbird gardens. The one consistent aspect of the school’s landscape is that it will change as the students continue to have an impact on their surroundings.
GROWTH OF ACADEMIC PROGRAMS The first year of The Pilot School’s existence meant creating statements of philosophy and purpose for the school and designing a program to meet the students’ needs. The task was done with such care and insight that the initial vision for the school has changed little during the intervening years. When, in those early months, Miss LeStourgeon and her one staff member, Miss Audrey Wunder [later, Mrs. Audrey Spencer], formulated the principle of developing and implementing individualized instruction for each child, they provided a pedagogical foundation that has continued as the primary guiding principle for The Pilot School.
In a 1958 interview, Miss LeStourgeon noted that ungraded schools were not particularly unusual “but ungraded schools for teaching children with learning problems are, ” adding that she believed The Pilot School was unique in applying the idea to pupils such as hers. Using an ungraded approach proved to be especially well suited to the children who came to The Pilot School. It meant that each child was expected to meet a standard based on his or her own ability, rather than competing with other students to earn a satisfactory grade based on a class standard. Thus, with the provision of small classes and the elimination of the usual competitive pressures found in main stream educational settings, The Pilot School offered pupils the opportunity to enjoy success that had previously eluded them. Nonetheless, the ultimate goal always held before the Pilot students was to find in their successes the strategies they needed to achieve success at their own grade level in the main stream schools they would eventually attend.
Curriculum The Pilot School curriculum includes the same subject areas that the students would study in a mainstream school: language, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, drama, health, and physical education. However, throughout The Pilot School’s history, there has been an emphasis on language development as key to success in other areas of study. As the number of students increased and the age range widened, the school added
academic specialists to the faculty. In the autumn of 1963, a part-time music teacher joined the staff, although the position did not become full-time until 1985. In 1968, there were three specialists—a physical education teacher, a reading teacher, and a librarian— out of a faculty that totaled twenty-three. By 2002, the “special staff” expanded to include a psychologist, speech/language therapists, reading specialists, a music therapist, and teachers whose time was dedicated solely to art, science, physical education, social science, and computers. The “hands-on” aspects of science have made it a popular subject with students throughout Pilot’s history. The six little boys who were the entire student body at Christ Church built a spaceship in their classroom. When the school was on Bancroft Parkway, the students constructed a reflecting telescope.
The local newspaper reported their
project and the accompanying evening of moon watching, noting the disappointment at a failed first attempt and great satisfaction of the second, successful moon watch. On another occasion, the students created a papier-mâché dinosaur that was over six feet tall. Their Plexiglas terrarium held a tiny pond in which the life cycle of the frog played itself out.
Astronomy and dinosaurs have been perpetual favorites among the students.
teachers guided them to observe carefully, to watch for changing conditions, to use their senses to collect information, and to organize the gathered data in order to answer questions. The pupils grew plants, raised animals, and did experiments. For several years, beginning in the 1960s, they prepared projects for the school’s annual Science Fair, each of which was developed around a particular theme, such as water, weather, or recycling.
In their varied projects, they used pulleys to lift objects, constructed
mechanisms for throwing baseballs, created electronic quiz games, built water clocks, devised containers for protecting eggs dropped from a height, and conducted quality tests to evaluate which was the best marking pen. The school launched its “extended year” program in the summer of 1967, motivated by the conviction that the children needed additional time for learning and that they would
forget less if they spent less time away from school. Mandatory for all students who were ten years old and older, sessions ran during the mornings for five to six weeks between the end of school in June and the end of July. Over the years, the program has altered in terms of timing although the number of additional days of education has not changed. Starting immediately after the close of the regular school year, the extended year session concludes at the end of June, allowing students to participate in summer activities on roughly the same schedule as their peers who attend main stream schools.
Outside educational opportunities have complemented The Pilot School program over the years. During the 1978-79 school year, Hagley Museum used Lower Division students to develop a social studies curriculum based on museum visits. The museum supplied Pilot teachers with pre- and post-visit activities. Then, once a month, Lower Division students spent an afternoon at the museum participating in numerous and varied “hands on” lessons. In a new setting with teachers who were museum professionals, they enjoyed lessons such as “Family and Community Life” and “Jobs and Working Places.” The children were allowed to handle objects, use them as they would historically have been used, and, in general, learn from participating in the program activities. This was not the school’s first experience with Hagley. In 1976, as part of the bicentennial celebration, the museum had an educational program in which all Pilot students and their teachers, dressed in colonial costume, participated. “I Love To Read Month” is another popular educational activity that engages all the members of the school population. The program, in which other Delaware schools take part under the auspices of the Diamond State Reading Association, was first held at The Pilot School in the mid-1970s and invites pupils not only to read, but also to write, to prepare and perform skits, and to make presentations to their fellow students. At various times, members of the Board of Trustees, parents, and outside participants also contribute to the program, selecting their own favorite stories and reading them aloud to the youngsters.
The children demonstrated their language skills in 1991 when they
assembled a poetry anthology dedicated to Ian McIlvain, a schoolmate who had died in a skiing accident.
Testing, evaluation, strategies The process of testing and evaluating prospective students has been essential to the success of the school’s program. Testing reveals each child’s particular challenges so that the needed strategies and guidance can be supplied. Initially, Miss LeStourgeon did the school’s educational testing and the Neurological Department of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia did the school’s psychological, psychiatric, and neurological testing. By 1975, the staff included a diagnostician who was qualified to do the appropriate and necessary assessments. The testing used to evaluate each new Pilot student provided the essential information that allowed the staff psychologist, reading diagnostician, and speech and language therapist to develop an Individual Educational Plan for the child, a specific program to build auditory, visual, and motor skills. Once the plan was in place, regular and extensive follow-up tracked how the student was progressing and whether any adjustments were required.
In addition, as early as the mid-1970s, The Pilot School was providing testing not only for students applying for admission to Pilot but also for other institutions in the area. Even when the children tested enrolled elsewhere—of twenty-five youngsters evaluated in 1983, for example, only six became students at The Pilot School—the diagnostic testing provided a valuable service to the community. In many cases, if parents elected to enroll their child elsewhere or if the Pilot program was not appropriate for a child, the staff was able to use the testing results to assist the parents to find suitable placement at another school.
Pilot parents At every point in the school’s history, the parents of Pilot School students have been deeply involved in the life of the school. In-depth parent-teacher conferences that also can include the Division chair and, at times, the school’s director, bring parents into participation in the educational master plans that school personnel have prepared for their children. For many parents, their previous experience with teacher conferences had been
discouraging, as teachers reported on children struggling in challenging learning situations where they enjoyed little or no success. The Pilot School teachers recognized that parents are eager to hear about their children’s progress. Thus, the conferences, while providing realistic feedback on the pupils’ work, are intended to build on the strengths of the pupils and to further cooperative efforts involving both home and school. In addition, the conferences—three a year at the minimum and more if needed—provide parents with important expert information that will help them to understand better the challenges facing their children and to appreciate the strategies the children are learning.
To give parents a firsthand taste of daily life at The Pilot School, the school director and Division chairs inaugurated “Mini-Day” in October 1974. Designed to introduce parents to the school’s methods and rhythms, the “day” was initially a three-day open house, one day for each of the three Divisions, during which parents, and occasionally grandparents, followed a “mini schedule” so they could attend all of their child’s classes. Changed within a couple of years to a single day during which all three Divisions enjoyed visits from parents, the day begins with assembly, during which the Director welcomes the parents and introduces the staff specialists and the Division chairs. Then parents and children together share academic lessons and exercises, music, art, and lunch. It is, for many parents, one of the highlights of the year.
Getting the word out From the very start, the school was challenged to let the community know what its program was all about and in particular to help the public understand that for a child to have learning problems was vastly different from a child being mentally retarded. The children at The Pilot School have language-based learning problems. Although they have average or above average intelligence, they are burdened with a particular learning problem—dyslexia, auditory or visual perceptual difficulties, or some other impediment to learning—that makes it difficult to succeed in a traditional classroom setting. The Board and staff constantly seek to convey the message that Pilot is “not just an
independent school but a school for children with learning problems serving a special community need that crosses the public and non-public sector.” They frequently reiterate that Pilot’s goal to return children to “regular” classrooms as soon as they are ready.
As early as 1959, the school hosted the first of many open house events to introduce parents, educators, neighbors, benefactors, and the community at large to the school and its special mission. Particular care was taken to reach out to and inform members of the educational community, such as the heads of schools for pre-schoolers and teachers at such schools, as well as to connect with guidance counselors and psychologists in other area schools. The school regularly invited these professionals to visit Pilot in order to learn more about the work being done there and about the services the school could offer. For many outsiders, such visits were their first exposure to techniques that would allow them to identify children under their care who had special educational needs.
In addition, representatives of The Pilot School, particularly Miss LeStourgeon, went out into the community to meet educators in their own schools. Intended primarily to allow Pilot staff to assess which schools would be appropriate for Pilot students when they eventually graduated, the visits to other schools also provided the staff with the perfect opportunity to convey to the school heads and staffs information about Pilot’s specialized approach and services.
Throughout the years, in addition to events that brought outsiders to the school, Pilot representatives also attended meetings in the larger community and carried the Pilot message outward. The Delaware Association of Independent Schools, of which Pilot was a founding member in 1970, met several times each year to give school directors the opportunity to share information and to build a collaborative network amongst themselves. The organization also held, and continues to hold, an annual meeting for school trustees and directors. Considering such topics as “Marketing for the Independent School” and “Legislative Issues Facing Independent Schools,” the meetings brought together school heads and trustees from all over Delaware in a collegial setting ideal for the exchange of ideas and philosophies.
In many ways, The Pilot School was like any other independent school, wrestling with issues of funding and salaries and tuition. But in other essential ways, it was unique among the independent schools and the meetings offered Miss LeStourgeon and members of her Board the opportunity to talk about the things that made The Pilot School special. When Miss LeStourgeon was president of DAIS for the 1984-85 and 1985-86 school years, the school hosted the DAIS meetings, hospitality that Miss LeStourgeon recognized as a good opportunity “to make other schools aware of Pilot School and what we can offer to the educational community.”
In addition to participation in DAIS meetings, Miss LeStourgeon represented Pilot at a variety of other professional gatherings.
It was her regular participation in such
meetings, both as an attendee and as a presenter, that conveyed to the community of educators concerned with teaching learning disabled children the model of The Pilot School. As a result of her tireless communication, Pilot’s example has been offered to educators across the country. Miss LeStourgeon participated in the founding of the National Association for Children with Learning Disabilities, an organization that extended dramatically the network of resources available to the school.
represented Pilot at meetings of the National Association of Independent School and served on the state committee working in support of funding for public school programs for children with learning disabilities.
When The Pilot School began, the services it offered were unique and, at the time, it seemed unlikely that public schools would offer similar educational programs. It was not until the early 1970s, in fact, that the public schools had special classes for children with learning disabilities. The classes offered elsewhere have not halted The Pilot School’s growth, however, as parents and teachers have become increasingly aware of learning disabilities and as children, who would have previously gone undiagnosed as learning disabled, are identified as needing special help. Each spring, as graduation approaches and the staff contemplates the number of students who will be leaving, there are more than enough applicants to fill the vacancies created.
Getting Older and Younger In addition, of course, the school grew because the age range of children being taught increased. When the school began, it offered classes for primary-aged pupils because the faculty did not have the expertise needed to deal with the challenges of older students. In 1965, the school was still divided into two age groupings, Lower Primary and Intermediate, but the seeds of change had already been planted.
In the spring of 1963, four students had completed work to the sixth grade level but it was clear to the staff that, before they could go on to main stream schools, they still needed the special program that Pilot could offer. So the school formed an â€œexperimental groupâ€? and created a junior high school level curriculum for the youngsters, the start of the Upper Division.
By the end of the 1965-66 school year, the upper age limit for
enrollment had been expanded to include work through the eighth grade level. The following September, there were twelve pupils in the junior high program, with a corresponding increase in teaching staff to maintain the ratio of one teacher to every five pupils.
In the early 1980s, the school extended the age span downward to include kindergartenaged children, thus achieving an age range from five to fourteen years. In general, children from five to nine are in the Lower Division, those ages ten and eleven are in the Middle Division, and pupils who are twelve to fourteen years old make up the Upper Division.
Financial aid From 1963 onward, the school has offered some level of financial aid. The Board of Trustees established a Scholarship Committee in 1965, a step toward systematizing the process of granting assistance. In the 1966-67 school year, four students, who accounted for 6 percent of the student population, received financial aid.
Over the years the
percentage of the student population receiving some measure of help has increased until,
in 2001-2002, the school provided forty-two students [26 percent of the student population] with scholarship funds. Initially, two sources provided most of the scholarship dollars—the Children’s Beach House1 and The Pilot School Fund. It was quickly apparent that the need for financial assistance would only increase with growing numbers of students and rising tuition costs. In 1979, the Trustees launched an endowment fund drive with the intention that one-third of the fund income would be earmarked for financial aid, another third to go to staff funding, and the final third to capital needs. By the mid-1980s, the Tory Thouron Scholarship Endowment, named for the Trustee whose efforts raised a substantial portion of the endowment, was firmly established and dedicated to scholarship support. In addition, former Trustee, Irénée duPont, designated that income from another trust fund be sent to the school, which used it for financial assistance. The Home and School Association provides generous support to the school’s scholarship fund and donors to the school’s annual giving campaign regularly designate their gifts to be used for such aid. In addition, scholarship funds that memorialize Pilot students, Ian McIlvain and Teddy Sezna, support the financial aid effort. As the school enters the twenty-first century, the financial assistance challenges have not diminished and school Trustees continue to give time and attention to meeting those needs.
Moving up and moving on The average stay for a student at Pilot is between three and five years and, because The Pilot School aims to graduate students as soon as they are prepared to attend a main stream school, graduation can be at any age. Each spring, although the majority of graduates will be from the Upper Division, there are also a few students from the Middle and Lower divisions counted among the graduates.
Students and parents are not,
however, left to their own devices to find the appropriate “next school” for the children preparing to leave Pilot. From the very first graduating class in 1960, the staff concerned
The Children’s Beach House, established in the 1930s, provided a “temporary home . . . for convalescent and maladjusted children whose needs cannot be met in their own homes or in any other Delaware institution.” Initially the organization offered summer activities for children who stayed at their Rehoboth
itself with finding the right places for the students who are graduating, 80 percent of whom go to main stream schools and 20 percent of whom continue with some sort of special education program, including vocational training.
communications and reciprocal visits among the schools in the community, the director and staff have acquired the knowledge they need to make suitable and well-informed matches between Pilot students and recipient schools.
The continued academic well being of the students has always been important to the Pilot staff even after the children leave the school. Starting with Pilotâ€™s first graduates, Miss LeStourgeon made a practice of following up with the schools to which Pilot students had gone in order to verify that the students were doing well. She also routinely checked with parents to confirm that no problems have arisen. The school stood ready to provide input and assistance to address any issues that are threatening a studentâ€™s continued achievement.
The Pilot School continues to be important to the students who go to other schools, well prepared for success. Many students return to thank the Pilot staff for what they did to make their eventual success possible. For many years, former students have come back to the school as graduation speakers, eager to tell the soon-to-be alumni how a Pilot School education provided them with tools for long-term success.
Beach house. By the 1960s, their services extended to students with learning disabilities. The organization recommended particular pupils to the school and then supported the youngsters financially.
THE ARTS AT THE PILOT SCHOOL The important role played by the arts at The Pilot School is based on the belief that every child should be able to find some form of pleasure in the arts. During the school’s history, students have had the opportunity to participate in musical and theatrical performances and to explore a wide range of artistic media, including sculpture and painting.
Music The school placed particular emphasis on music because of music’s capacity to provide additional benefits beyond the pleasure of music itself. Participation in classes and in programs helped students to develop motor skills, to enhance auditory, speech, and language skills, to increase attention span, and to improve self-esteem through successful performances. Most music program classroom activities required student participation-singing with others, playing musical instruments, taking part in singing games, musical skits, and dancing and moving to music, though there was time spent simply listening to music as well.
When the school opened, a classroom teacher with a particular interest in music assumed responsibility for the children’s musical education. In 1963, a part-time music teacher joined the Pilot staff and the position eventually changed to that of music therapist who initially was employed part-time. In 1985, the music therapist became a full-time staff member at the school.
Pilot students were offered the opportunity to participate in musical ensembles early in the school’s history. Because of the emphasis on music, the student body at the Bancroft Parkway school was the first Pilot School musical group, bringing together pupils to blend their voices in song. The Middle Division Glee Club was organized in 1985, followed two years later by the Upper Division Chorus. Formed in 1992, the Early
Morning Jammers, who both play musical instruments and sing, took their name from the time of their 7:15 a.m. practice sessions.
Holiday programs, the biggest musical effort during the school year, showcased the musical talents of all the students in a variety of seasonal plays. In 1979, the pupils undertook a production of “The Reform of Benjamin Scrimp,” a play loosely based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” although the Pilot cast had Tiny Tom rather than Tiny Tim. Two years later, the holiday play was “Christmas Comes to the Jungle” with a cast that included Tarzan, Jane, Boy, Cheetah, natives, Santa, and hippies. In 1987, the Middle Division presented “Santa Lost His Ho Ho Ho,” while the Upper Division program was an original play, “A Cause for Mrs. Claus.” In 1993, all the student’s efforts were combined into a single holiday program rather than separate plays for each Division, a practice that has prevailed. In 1996, the holiday program took the school’s history as its theme, recognizing the school’s fortieth anniversary in song and skit. The students also based the first holiday program of the new century on history, using as their inspiration in 2000 the westward expansion of America in the 1800s and including in the singing, dancing, and narration the combined stories of the Native Americans, cowboys and cowgirls, and the railroad. Appropriately for the twenty-first century, the production utilized video technology along with the traditional performing arts.
The spring program, which involves all the Pilot students in a single show, is the other big production for pupils, though one that does not require the participation of all students. While it is often a musical production without a story line, in 1970 the students based their spring musical on “Tom Sawyer” and in May 1978, the school put on “The Pilot Wiz” to benefit The Pilot School Physical Education Program. The cast included characters expected in “The Wizard of Oz”—Dorothy, Toto, the Cowardly Lion, the Tinman, and the Scarecrow—but it also had children who portrayed the tornado, “Winkies,” and “Funkey Monkeys.” Over the years, the holiday and spring programs have included children dressed as elves, gifts, reindeer, ice skaters, stars, Hershey’s
kisses, mice, fairy tale characters, penguins, grouches, sheep, rabbits, spacemen, clowns, rag dolls, a jack-in-the-box, and a train.
The 1990s saw school productions looking backward. In 1995, the annual play took the 1950s as its theme and students dressed in appropriate costumes, including poodle skirts for the girls, demonstrated their skills with hula hoops, played period tunes on a juke box, and performed dances of the era. Two years later, the production celebrated the school’s history when it used “Happy Birthday Pilot” as the theme and the students prepared a skit based on the television game shows “Jeopardy,” “Wheel of Fortune,” and “Name That Tune.” The program concluded with a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
Pilot musicians have represented their school elsewhere as well. For two years in the mid-1980s, The Pilot School Glee Club participated with schools from elsewhere in the area in the Interschool Sing at the Grand Opera House. In 2000, the Early Morning Jammers performed as part of an art and music therapy conference in Washington D.C. The ten-person ensemble played a variety of music ranging from pop to rock to jazz for legislators and lobbyists on Capital Hill. The young musicians also performed locally, at the Wilmington Montessori School, the Sanford School, and at the Tatnall School. They have played for private parties, performed at a music therapy conference in Wilmington, and provided music for a fund raising event sponsored by Child, Inc., a local charity dedicated to helping families address problems of conflict and abuse, with a special focus on the plight of children. In 2002, the Early Morning Jammers were also the musicians who played for the annual Home and School Association golf tournament party.
Musical training put Pilot students in a position to participate in musical productions in addition to school shows. In 1981, for example, a Pilot student was one of the children in “The Sound of Music” at Candlelight Music Dinner Theater. A year later, a former student acted and sang in his high school production of “Camelot.” Pupils also appeared in local theater productions, including two in leading roles in Opera Delaware’s “Charlotte’s Web” and three taking leading parts in “Cricket in Times Square.” A number of pupils have performed in supporting roles in Opera Delaware productions.
Since 1992, “Music in the Schools” month and the performances associated with that program have made music a daily occurrence during March, usually at assembly before the school day begins. During this month of special brief performances, students have the opportunity both to perform and to enjoy a variety of music. Through the program, they have become acquainted with a wide range of musical instruments, including accordion, trombone, guitar, piano, flute, clarinet, banjo, and harp and heard their teachers, and occasionally a Board member, perform. In 1994, for example, during “Music in the Schools” month, Board president Charles Schutt demonstrated his virtuosity on the harmonica and the following year, the programs included at least one grandparent playing with a musical group.
Music came to the school from outside as well. In the mid-1980s, the McKean High School band, garbed in their tartan kilts and led by a drum major, brought the skirl of bagpipes to the school’s playing fields. A decade later, the Yale Alley Cats, a twentyperson ensemble of singers entertained the students with traditional choral music and Broadway tunes, an event characterized as “quite enjoyable.” Just as Pilot musicians performed in other area schools, other school musical groups, including the Independent School String Ensemble, the Wilmington Friends School Jazz Band, and the Archmere Chamber Singers, have provided musical programs at The Pilot School.
Theater Theater arts have also played a role in the development of the school, as a source of funding and as a source of education for the students. In 1965, three theater programs yielded income to benefit the school. The Breck’s Mill Cronies’ production of “The Red Head” and the Lyceum Players’ production of “Love’s Labor Lost” at Longwood, both shows involving Pilot parents, raised funds for the school’s scholarship fund. At the end of the year, the Home and School Association sponsored a performance of “The Most Happy Fella” at Breck’s Mill, with proceeds going to Pilot.
Professional theater groups, most prominently the Peoples Light and Theater Company, have visited the school over the years. Beginning in 1985 and for the next decade, the troupe regularly performed at Pilot and presented programs that involved students and faculty in the action. Once again, it was a parent’s involvement with the company that brought the actors, scenery, and excitement of live theater to Garden of Eden Road. In 1989, the professionals joined forces with Pilot students to mount a production of “Dream Demons,” a play that used the folklore of the Native American tribes of the northwest as its theme. In 1990, the all-school cast presented C. S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, another Peoples Light and Theater production. In 1998, adult actors from the Peoples Light and Theater troupe joined forces with Pilot School students in two productions, “Grumble Pie” and “Hansel and Gretel.”
Art For the school’s first three years, an art teacher from Wilmington Friends School came once a week to provide art education for Pilot students. The youngsters’ first group art project produced a six-foot-long mural of an undersea scene. The mural migrated with the children when they moved from Christ Church to Bancroft Parkway and then to Garden of Eden Road and lasted until the new Art Room was opened in 1987. As the school grew, classroom teachers with a particular interest in art took a leadership role in teaching art, taking on a variety of projects in a range of media.
With the move to Garden of Eden Road, the art program gained a large, sunny room of its own, with space for painting, printmaking, and working with clay and other media. Students enjoyed finger painting, painting with sponges, working with pastels, water coloring, and printing with leaves. The school has its own kiln so that the students can produce a variety of ceramic projects. It is a space well equipped and inviting for the young artists who make good use of the beautiful countryside setting that the school enjoyed. During the 1970s, the school inaugurated an “artist in residence” program. In 1979, for example, the resident artist was a poet who worked with each class, involving the
students in stretching and honing their language skills, both written and oral. In 1980, the students produced a poetry anthology entitled “Speaking, Shouting, Spouting, Sputtering, Spoofing, Spinning and Spilling It All Out!” Two years later, the artist who spent time at the school was a dancer who taught movement. Other performers participated in the program as well, over the years giving the children had the opportunity to work with a dulcimer player, a mime, a musician, and an actress.
In March and April 1986, The Pilot School collaborated for the first time with the Delaware Arts Council, which offered its own an “Artist in Residence” program for the students. That year and for several years thereafter, watercolorist Wynn Breslin guided the students’ painting efforts and the youngsters’ watercolor paintings, now framed, decorate the school’s walls. At least one painter-sculptor worked with the children, returning for successive years to create clay sculptures, toothpick sculptures, and paintings. In 1996, under the direction of ceramist Kezia Lechner, the children produced a large collaborative piece of art. Each child made a single five-by-five-and-a-half-inch tile. When mounted on the wall collectively, the individual tiles formed the clay mural that graces the multipurpose room
The Pilot School students had the opportunity to share their artistic output with the larger community. In the spring of 1989, the Delaware Association of Independent Schools sponsored a Middle School Art Show that was displayed at Upland Country Day School and included The Pilot School as one of the ten schools participating. Five years later, the Association mounted the art exhibit at Pilot and work from ten other area schools was on display for ten days in mid-April. The program has continued, with nearly double the number of participating schools preparing art work annually for the springtime event.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION AT THE PILOT SCHOOL Physical education always had an important place in the curriculum at The Pilot School. From it foundation, the school’s approach to basic sports and games was to provide children with the skills and the sports repertoire that would allow them to participate in neighborhood play and that would help them become strong and healthy adults. Even recess and playtime were opportunities to remind students of their responsibility to follow the rules that allowed everyone to enjoy the activities.
When the school operated in classrooms at Christ Episcopal Church, the youngsters went twice a week to the Tatnall School for physical education classes. Once the school occupied the house at 1003 Bancroft Parkway, the first physical education teachers there were students from the University of Delaware, often using the parkway grassy median as a space for games and exercise. Al Wentz, who began his Pilot School career at the Bancroft Parkway school, laid the foundation for the school’s physical education program and insured that it had a major part in the school’s overall program. The school’s urban location offered the occasional odd challenge. In the early 1960s, the city Parks and Recreation Department banned bats in the median area of Bancroft Parkway, prompting the school to make a successful application for the young pupils to be allowed to play baseball there. The boys went to Rockford Park to play their football games. As the Trustees made plans in the mid-1960s for the construction of the new school building, they included the playground and football field as important features in the discussion.
Growth of the sports program The move from Bancroft Parkway to Garden of Eden Road allowed the physical education program to grow. The school paper reported in May 1966, that the after-school sports program now included girls. “This is a special privilege for the girls,” noted the
young reporter, “not a requirement.”
The P.E. offerings included soccer, baseball,
badminton, tumbling, and jumping hurdles. Because of The Pilot School’s history of physical education training initially occurring at the Tatnall School, it was easy for the two institutions to begin informal games between teams from Pilot and Tatnall. From the early 1960s, as part of the after school program, Pilot School children played a variety of sports, including football, wrestling, basketball, and baseball against comparably aged students from the Tatnall School.
By the autumn of 1967, the school had a physical education teacher whose only responsibility was P.E. The children had regular classes three or four times each week and after school activities three times a week for children who were nine years old or older. As the student population aged, the after school activities grew to include more organized sports. The girls and boys used the new gym for all but three periods each week and there were fifty-five boys in the after school program, which included football, cageball, soccer, and wrestling among its activities. Although the after school activities initially included only boys, soon both boys and girls from the Upper Division were expected to take part, a requirement that later was dropped in favor of voluntary participation.
By 1970, the school was associated with the Independent School League, a status that allowed Pilot students to play football against their peers at other schools. In the autumn that year, a new standard size football field, suitable for interscholastic competitions, replaced the old “junior size” football field. In the 1970s, an increasing number of sports meets with other schools kept students busy, as The Pilot School competed in wrestling, basketball, and track against Tower Hill School, Tatnall School, Wilmington Friends School, and Upland Country Day School. Changing seasonally, the after school program by the 1980s offered weight training, bowling, swimming, wrestling, volleyball, biking, tennis, archery, and softball. The twenty-first century saw boys and girls competing together on the same teams and playing soccer, basketball, and “boys rules” lacrosse against middle schoolers from other nearby independent schools.
While the older students stretched their competitive muscles, the Lower Division athletes focused their energies on games and activities that helped develop coordination, agility, strength, and confidence. A 1971 report in the school paper described the youngsters warming up with sit-ups, jumping jacks, and other exercises to get their blood flowing. Then the children ran relay races, tumbled, and played games like Red Rover, Boundary Ball, Fox and Chicken, Steal the Bacon, and Octopus.
Running The Run Club was organized in 1971 with the intention that students, over the course of the year, would build up the distances they could run. All the runners kept track of their cumulative miles and, from the very beginning of the program, the high mileage runners won awards for their perseverance. The school honored one runner from each Division at graduation and painted the names of the runners on the locker room walls. News stories appeared regularly in Pilot student newspapers, noting distances that students were logging and reporting on outside running events in which Run Club members participated. A decade after the club began, the school paper reported that, as of December 1982, the Run Club had seventy-eight members and their total mileage was approaching 3,000 miles, the distance â€œfrom Delaware to California.â€? The young runners wanted to reach the mileage threshold that would entitle them to a Pilot School Run Club tee shirt. The activity also provided many Pilot students with a sport that they took with them to other schools, where they became members of cross-country teams, often with noteworthy success.
Running took on added seriousness when the first Paul Simpson Run was held in April 1985 to honor a former Pilot student who was battling terminal cancer. Paul Simpson was there to fire the starting pistol that sent the runners on their way. The event began as a fundraiser to add to the school scholarship fund but, within four years, it had become a memorial run in which all ages were encouraged to join. Occasionally, the outing even crossed species boundaries as dogs, patiently bearing runnersâ€™ numbers, joined the pack.
Swimming Soon after the move to Garden of Eden Road in 1965, the Board of Trustees began to give consideration to building a swimming pool as part of a school expansion. First included in discussions in the fall of 1966, the pool was a reality when school opened three years later. Soon the students were able to enjoy a wide range of water activities in addition to swimming basics, including how to use masks, fins, and snorkels in the pool in order to make surface dives and recover objects from the bottom of the pool. The program also provided instruction in canoeing and basic lifesaving and, as soon as the pool opened, the school held intramural swim meets.
The pool has proven both a popular physical education activity and a favorite occupation during each year’s Family Fun Night, when students and their guests are invited to enjoy open swimming. On the rare occasion that Field Day turned rainy, the pool was also the site of some of the day’s activity, such as relays and group swim.
Field Day The first Pilot School field day was held in 1966 at the new school building on Garden of Eden Road, as the students with their teachers and parents turned out for a morning of games and fun followed by a picnic.
Over the years the activities have included
traditional activities—tug-of-war, beanbag relay, sack race, water balloon toss, threelegged race, wheelbarrow race, piggyback race, and a balance contest in which participants ran the course with an egg perched on a teaspoon. There have also been scavenger hunts, pie eating contests, and events that involved running the length of the set course carrying a wiffleball on a tennis racket or batting a basketball along the course with a bowling pin. In 1995, Field Day was enlarged to include the Paul Simpson Run, renamed “Run for Courage.” With time, the character of the day changed somewhat, so that the event participants now are only the students and the activities take place in the afternoon, after a normal academic morning. “P.E. In Our Schools”
During the 1990s, the physical education program meant more than the opportunity to participate actively in numerous sports. Through the “P.E. in Our Schools” program, it also provided the opportunity for students to learn from teachers, fellow pupils, and visitors the ins and outs of a wide range of activities and the importance of physical fitness.
Most of the sports presented were individual rather than team activities—
aerobics, karate, badminton, skate boarding, tennis, gymnastics, fishing, scuba diving, running, hiking and camping, archery, skiing, wrestling, and golf.
In 1995, the
youngsters and their teachers went out onto the school lawn to learn some of the basics of riding horses.
Contributors from outside the school also participated in the program. A member of the United States luge team visited for a “P.E. in Our Schools” program and talked about his winter sport. The Olympics got some additional attention when a member of the United States first place women’s softball team was part of the “P.E. in Our Schools” program in 1996. Representatives of the Wilmington Blue Rocks and members of a University of Delaware dance group that combined gymnastics and music also provided Pilot students with insights into other aspects of physical education.
Sports and outreach The school’s sports facilities also offer The Pilot School an opportunity for outreach to the nearby community. Beginning in the mid-1970s and for several years thereafter, a variety of groups used the school playing field for summer seasons of softball. St. Mary Magdalen School and Immaculate Heart School rented the gym for basketball practice for several years in the late 1970s and, in the 1980s, both Ursuline Academy and St. Elizabeth’s School had swim practice in The Pilot School pool. One of the school’s nearest neighbors, the Jewish Community Center used the Pilot tennis courts in the late 1970s.
STUDENTS AWAY FROM SCHOOL School trips Not all of the students’ learning took place at the school itself. From the very start, there was consensus that class trips benefited the children by increasing the students’ awareness of the world around them and providing an occasion for young minds to be stimulated in their interest in learning.
The first Pilot students traveled from their
classrooms at Christ Episcopal Church and 1003 Bancroft Parkway to visit local destinations. They went to see exhibits at the Delaware Art Museum, visited Hagley Museum, traveled to Dover to see the buildings surrounding the Green, and to Sussex County to see Delaware agriculture in operation.
It was not long, however, before the pupils were taking longer trips that required overnight stays away from home.
In the autumn of 1966, Miss LeStourgeon, five
teachers, and twenty-six students set off on the school’s first long-distance adventure. Headed for Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts, the travelers had the chance to see all the living history museum had to offer—school house, grist mill, candle shop, print shop, and spinning shop where the youngsters carded and spun wool. The route home allowed a visit to Mystic, Connecticut’s seaport museum where the students went aboard the retired whaler, the Charles W. Morgan.
Most fieldtrips for the Lower Division students were closer to home, involving only day trips to the Delaware Nature Center, an orchard, a cheese factory, or a farm where they could see cows being milked and could pet lambs. An early trip to the Talleyville Firehouse proved somewhat disappointing when the youngsters discovered that the firemen did not sleep at the firehouse and that there was no hook and ladder truck, no pole for the firemen to slide down, and no fire dog. They took some satisfaction, however, in being able to hear the siren.
The older children in Middle and Upper divisions were allowed longer and wider-ranging trips. Day trips included visits to a Delaware State Police post, the Philadelphia airport, the United Nations, the Port of Wilmington, the Wilmington News-Journal, Longwood Gardens, and Dover.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Middle Division students had
overnight stays at the Children’s Beach House in Lewes. Taking advantage of the seaside location, teachers accompanying the youngsters prepared lessons that emphasized the ocean, sea life, and the environment.
In 1973, the Board of Trustees approved a trip that took the older students on an extended trip to the American southwest, on which they undertook a social studies curriculum that included emphasis on the National Parks. This five-week adventure was the first of many long trips for the Upper Division students. Ranging in length from three to six weeks, the trips eventually took students to such far-flung destinations as Nova Scotia and Quebec, Wyoming’s Grand Teton Mountains, West Virginia, Florida, Vermont, and New Orleans for Mardi Gras. One group camped at the bottom of the Grand Canyon during their excursion to the west.
The outings not only exposed the youngsters to the larger world, but also gave them insights into what it took to live amicably in close proximity with others. On overnight fieldtrips, students were divided into squads. The squads had job assignments that were intended to encourage teamwork and a sense of responsibility. A school newspaper report on a 1971 camping trip to Williamsburg described the tasks assigned to the five squads. One group cooked dinner, another cleaned up after dinner, a third cared for the fire, a fourth cooked breakfast, and the last squad cleaned up after breakfast.
Pilot Associates Program Some activities that connected Pilot students to the larger world were one-on-one links forged by the Pilot Associates Program. Begun by Trustee and Pilot parent William Sweet in 1982, the program recruited scientists, engineers, and businessmen, both active and retired, who were matched to students nearing the end of their education at The Pilot School. The goals of the Associates Program were two-fold—to help the youngsters
polish their social and conversational skills and to share knowledge that the Associates had gained during their years in business.
The men were asked to meet weekly with their young partners.
In nurturing the
development of social skills, they urged the students to have “firm handshakes and eyeto-eye contact” when they engaged in conversation. The mentors organized fieldtrips for the students and encouraged them to follow up their visits with business letters to the places that had made them welcome. The program also helped the youngsters focus on the future, to explore their goals, and to recognize—or discover--what it would take to achieve those goals.
Mr. Sweet and the Upper Division Chair selected participants in the program. They interviewed students who thought they might be interested in taking part, giving highest priority to pupils close to the age when they would leave Pilot. Once selected, the students were then matched with suitable associates.
The program began with two students and two adults and within three years the number of adult volunteers had risen to twelve. The Associates found a wide range of activities to share with the students. Often they would meet after school or for lunch and spend time discussing the pupils’ studies and interests. There were frequent outings to places like the Wilmington airport, the Wilmington Port Authority, the News-Journal offices, various departments of the DuPont Company, from which many of the Associates came, and to the Kalmar Nyckel.
In 1983, the first year that women participated as associates, the DuPont Company magazine had an article about the program and in 1990 the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce named the program a winner in the Chamber’s “Superstars! In Education” contest, earning the school a cash award in recognition of Mr. Sweet’s efforts. The Pilot School community recognized the contribution of the program’s founder when, in 1993, the students dedicated the yearbook to William Sweet and all the volunteer Associates. The Board of Trustees too praised Mr. Sweet for the positive impact the program had had
on the Upper Division. Reviewing the various activities that the Associates had offered the young participants, the Trustees concluded that “The students gain knowledge of the business world first-hand, and friendships are formed – many long-lasting.”
After heading the program for twenty-four years, Mr. Sweet retired from his leadership role, having given the students an example of service and having left the school a legacy of widened opportunities for its students. The men who served as Associates in the program, reflecting on their interaction with the youngsters, characterized their experience as worthwhile and rewarding and described in the most positive ways the boys with whom they worked. Children’s outreach Over the years, the children of The Pilot School have been encouraged to look beyond their own classrooms and school and to think of others in the larger world, to live by the Golden Rule. In the 1960s, just as they were enjoying their new school building on Garden of Eden Road, they sent a gift to Wilmington Friends School as a contribution to the Friends Building Fund. They made donations to the News-Journal’s Needy Family Fund, took donated toys to St. Michael’s Day Nursery, and collected newspapers to raise funds to help with the medical costs of a young schoolmate who had been hurt in a swimming accident. Annually, they collect and deliver food to the Emmanuel Dining Room for Thanksgiving. In 1980, the students celebrated with Mrs. Carpenter when her husband’s baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, won the World Series. They marked the team’s success by sending a letter of congratulations and a special plaque to the team. It was also during the 1980s that the Lower Division established a happy friendship with the Brandywine Senior Center in Claymont. In both 1982 and 1983, the youngsters visited the Center and presented their Christmas program to the seniors. In addition, the children made several other visits to Claymont, on one occasion interviewing their older friends about their personal histories and stories, on another occasion watching a film together and sharing
popcorn. The seniors also paid a visit to the school, where they participated in classroom activities, as well as in art and music classes.
In 1999, the students brought their own stuffed animals to donate to a campaign to provide the Salvation Army with gifts for children that the agency served. Collected at the school, the stuffed toys lined the halls in a furry parade. At the conclusion of the campaign, children and toys piled into Pilot School vans to take the animals to the local Stanley Steemer facility, where the company cleaned every toy, freshening it for its next loving home. The following year, Pilot School students began an on-going relationship with Child, Inc. In their partnership with the charity, the students have supplied some of the items on the group’s “wish list,” providing such things as school supplies, books, games, and videos. The school’s Early Morning Jammers also contributed their music to the festivities at the Child, Inc. gala fundraiser in 2001.
In 2001, the children gave particular attention to live animals in the Wilmington area, making donations to help the work of the Brandywine Zoo, Tri-State Bird Rescue, the SPCA, and the Delaware Humane Association. Representatives of each group visited the school to talk about their work and the children, in turn, delivered their gifts in person, which allowed them a firsthand experience of the care provided the animals they sought to help.
HOME AND SCHOOL ASSOCIATION Parents of Pilot School students created a network of support for the school and for one another when they formed the Home and School Association in 1959 when The Pilot School still occupied rented rooms at Christ Episcopal Church. It was the parents who found the Bancroft Parkway property for the school’s second “home” and the parents group has provided continuing valuable backing for the educational efforts of the school’s staff. The Association’s special activities have allowed parents to interact with one another and to be involved in events that make a meaningful contribution to the school’s scholarship fund. “Welcome to The Pilot School” Every autumn, the Home and School Association opens the school year with their Covered Dish Dinner, first held in 1965 when the building on Garden of Eden Road was new. The dinner welcomes back returning and new families alike and provides the first opportunity of the school year for the school community to gather, to hear a greeting from the school director, and to anticipate the year ahead. Home and School has long taken responsibility for a number of activities, most combining work and fun and fund raising. In January 1971, the Home and School Association sponsored a “Splash and Fun Party” as a get-acquainted night for school families. Four years later, the group hosted a card party and auction that was called “Family Fun Night,” an evening that allowed pupils to show off their school to family and friends. The Family Fun Night in February 1986 provided a model for the event that, since then, has been held annually each winter as a collaboration between the Physical Education Department and the Home and School Association.
Family Fun Night offers a range of activities--foosball, basketball, table tennis, swimming, games—as well as book sales, music, magicians, and food. Over the years,
hedgehogs, raccoons, snakes, birds of prey, and reptiles have, at various times, joined the students and their families. The proceeds of the event’s food sales and donations go to support the activities of the Run Club, with income of the Home and School Book Fair benefiting the school library.
Dollars for scholars In 1970, Alpha Delta Kappa, an honorary sorority for teachers, sponsored an autumn card party to benefit the Pilot scholarship fund. Two years later, the sorority shifted its attention to the holidays and sponsored a Christmas bazaar that raised $929 for tuition aid. By 1974, Home and School had assumed responsibility for the sorority event, holding a Christmas Bazaar, that later became a Holiday Festival and eventually evolved into an early December plant and bake sale.
In 1978, when the cost of transportation became a potential stumbling block to the educational program being planned by Hagley Museum for Middle Division pupils, the school parents came up with a solution. They volunteered to cook and sell a hot lunch at the school one day each week to raise the funds needed for transporting the children to the museum.
The Home and School Association sponsored a long-running series of fashion shows, each spring for over two decades, starting in 1971 when the show took “The Very Thing for Spring” as its theme. With themes like “Color Your Spring With Fashion,” “Travel in Fashion,” and “Garden of Eden,” the show grew from a few models in the early years to events that included parents, children, and staff among the runway participants. When the Association inaugurated the golf tournament in 1981, the golfing event replaced the fashion shows as the group’s fund raising focus.
Golf tournament The Association also sponsored some lucrative garage sales, but by far the most successful annual fund raising activity the parents devised was the annual golf tournament, one of the first held in Wilmington for such purposes.
tournament enjoyed the help of two institutional benefactors. The Hercules Country Club donated use of the club golf course for the day and MBNA Bank supported the effort with a gift of $10,000. The Pilot Trustees provided support by sponsoring various of the holes along the course and then by playing in the tournament. For several tournaments, automobile dealers donated cars as prizes for golfers shooting a hole-in-one. Other friends of the school have donated the use of vacation homes and a dayâ€™s sailing lessons as additional special prizes.
In the mid-1990s, the tournament venue shifted to Hartefeld National in Avondale, Pennsylvania, and the Home and School Association inaugurated the Mary Kaye Carpenter Cup as the top prize in the event. The success of the golf tournament is reflected in the gifts that the Home and School Association has been able to make to the scholarship fund, donations ranging between $10,000 and $45,000 in the two decades the event has been held.
THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN Of all the activities and events associated with The Pilot School, the one which members of the Pilot family seem to remember most vividly is the circus that came to town to help raise funds for the scholarship endowment. Actually the circus came to town three times, in 1985, 1988, and 1991. The Trustees had little idea of what awaited them when they arrived at the school for their monthly Board meeting on 2 April 1984.
An idea is born. Trustee Tory [Thouron] Diffenderffer had just returned from Nashville, Kentucky, where she had heard about the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus, which had put on several performances to raise money for the local humane society. An avid circus fan already, Mrs. Thouron proposed that The Pilot School hire the circus to come to Wilmington and do the same thing for the school. With the Board’s approval, she organized an army of volunteers and set about the tasks of finding a site that was large enough for the seventyfour circus vehicles and the tent that would house the show, arranging police and fire services for the three days the circus would be in town, and getting the necessary permits.
The committee invited all the elementary schools in Wilmington to attend the tent raising on Friday morning, 31 May 1985. One thousand children and five hundred adults were at Delaware Park to see three elephants and eighty circus roustabouts put up the “big top” that gave the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus the distinction of being the largest circus still performing under canvas. At noon on Friday, the three of the elephants paraded down Market Street to draw the community’s attention to the circus performances.
The gala kickoff A Friday evening gala in the circus tent kicked off the weekend’s events. Clowns and jugglers in an informal reception line greeted guests as they arrived. Mrs. Diffenderffer and the committee had set up dining tables around all three of the rings in the circus tent. In the center ring after dinner, the performers entertained the two hundred guests with
highlights from their repertoire.
The performance began with a parade headed by
Governor Pierre duPont, Mrs. Carpenter, Mrs. Thouron, Miss LeStourgeon, and Board President Charles Schutt riding on elephants. When the circus acts were completed, a dance floor in the ring allowed dancing until the wee hours.
The 1985 circus event, which included the gala evening plus three Saturday performances and two Sunday performances, was a great success, identified by the Board as “truly the highlight of the year.” It was so successful, in fact, that the Board sponsored the circus again in 1988 and 1991. Although the first circus gala caused some anxious moments, as planners worried whether people would come to the event, by 1991, the gala had become so successful that five hundred people attended the sold-out party. In the end, the three performances raised $265,800 that became the foundation for the school’s scholarship endowment, which was renamed in her honor as The Pilot School Tory Thouron Endowment for Scholarship Fund.
Everyone had a job— The circus projects brought together members of The Pilot School family in a team that was unlike any that they had previously assembled. There was a role for each member of The Pilot School family. Trustees parked cars. Parents answered phones and took ticket reservations. Everyone added names to the gala guest list and sold tickets. The children, wearing paper animal masks depicting lions, giraffes, tigers, zebras, and horses, marched with the elephants down Market Street to publicize the performances. By the time all three events had taken place, Governor Mike Castle, Mrs. Thomas [Penny] Zappacosta [Pilot School parent], William C. Lickle [president of Delaware Trust], Scott Riegel [Pilot School alumnus and Trustee], and P. Coleman du Pont [Pilot School Trustee] had also ridden elephants at one of the gala evenings and Wilmington Mayor Dan Frawley had ridden an elephant in the circus parade down Market Street. The students recognized Mrs. Thouron’s contribution to the school by dedicating the 1989 yearbook to her, noting in their dedication that she “achieved one of the greatest public relations events in the history of The Pilot School when she brought the circus to
town. Because of Tory’s efforts, the community has been made more aware of the services that Pilot offers.”
The students had indeed identified one of the unexpected bonuses of the circus coming to town—it raised awareness of The Pilot School in the larger community. The Friday evening parties attracted the attention of community leaders who had previously been largely unaware of the school and its programs. The publicity that accompanied each tent raising and each circus parade created opportunities for the school to convey its message about what sort of school Pilot was and what sort of students attend there.
THE PILOT SCHOOL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE A young student once described change this way: “Have you ever noticed how the world changes so slowly that you can’t even see it but sometimes it changes really fast, like when a volcano interrupts?” For The Pilot School, most change has been the former, a gradual transformation with few sudden jolts along the road from an experimental endeavor with five students to an established institution with 160 pupils.
Continuity There is much about the story of The Pilot School that remains largely unchanged since the school’s founding in 1957. From the very beginning, the Director trained staff members to see each child as an individual. The faculty has worked faithfully and diligently to provide highly individualized programs, each crafted to fit the unique gifts and problems presented by each student. The school has focused intense attention on admissions and placement, striving to place the children in programs that were “right” for them and, when The Pilot School did not seem to offer the appropriate programs, assisting parents in find schools that would be a better fit for their youngsters. The teachers and staff have enjoyed an enduring sense of joy and satisfaction in interacting with the children and their families and in seeing children graduate and go on to further successes. All these practices, developed over the school’s history, prevail today, the foundation upon which The Pilot School built its approach to education.
The Board has sustained the school by its constant work to maintain a long-range vision for the school. Always looking ahead, the Trustees have made a habit of finishing one project and, rather than resting on their laurels, immediately turning their attention to the future to tackle the next task that needs to be accomplished. A continuing challenge has been finding funds necessary to provide financial aid for families needing help. Annually, the Board has undertaken the work that has to been done to meet these monetary challenges. The Trustees have also provided an important perspective on education, viewpoint other than that of the school’s staff. They have been ambassadors
on behalf of The Pilot School, conveying to the community at large essential information about what Pilot is and who it serves. And the Trustees have brought a key combination of enthusiasm and steadfastness to their service on behalf of the school, willing to ride elephants, park cars, and play golf for a good cause, but also willing to make serious decisions about the future of the institution.
Change As The Pilot School has functioned through the years, there has been change as well as continuity, though few changes have been sudden. Over the decades, the age range that the school serves has widened, from only primary aged children to a school with youngsters ranging from pre-kindergartners to pupils who are in their early teen years. The “Wings” have become “Divisions” and the timing of the extended year program has been modified.
Perhaps the greatest of the gradual changes has been in the process of teaching children with learning problems. Each year the teachers know more about appropriate teaching methods and about how children learn. With greater knowledge available, the programs and strategies of the faculty become increasingly precise and specialized. Parents too know more about the challenges their children face and about the role they can play in their youngsters’ success. All these elements add to The Pilot School program, with one year building on the previous year’s successes and leading to ever improving resources available to the students. One of the most evident changes that occurred in recent years was Miss LeStourgeon’s retirement. A mainstay of the school since its 1957 founding, Miss LeStourgeon advised the Board in the spring of 1997 that she planned to retire at the end of the 1997-98 school year. While the year went forward as it always had, with the Covered Dish Dinner in the autumn, Family Fun Night in February, “I Love To Read” Month in March, and Field Day in the spring, parties and celebrations of her service to the school her last year as director. The Board honored her with a festive dinner, the Delaware General Assembly took note of her remarkable career with a special resolution, and students, faculty, and
parents alike wished her well, inscribing their good wishes on two large cakes provided at Field Day. In anticipation of Miss LeStourgeon’s retirement, the Trustees approved the appointment of Mrs. Kathleen B. Craven as assistant director in January 1997. Mrs. Craven’s long association with The Pilot School began in 1976. Over the years, she was a classroom teacher in the Middle Division, a counselor, and, for a decade, chair of the Upper Division before becoming assistant director.
Anticipating Mrs. Craven’s becoming
school director, the students dedicated their 1998 yearbook to her. In their dedication, they recognized her ties to the school and the gifts she had to offer—“leadership, knowledge, dedication, and devotion to the children and their families”—and expressed their confidence that the school would flourish under her leadership.
Challenges As The Pilot School looks to the future, one of the serious challenges facing Director, faculty, Trustees, parents, and students will be maintaining the quality of education that has become the school’s hallmark. The process of refining programs offered at Pilot will allow the school to hold its place within the educational community. In order to achieve this goal, the Director and staff will need to train the next generation of teachers in “the Pilot way of doing things.” They are challenged in this undertaking to instill in these new teachers the same love for the school that has sustained and motivated staff in the past.
At the same time, the Board of Trustees continues to face the challenge of being good stewards of the school’s resources.
Because the demand for the school’s services
continues as pressing as ever, the Trustees must annually turn energy and imagination to the task of finding financial resources to provide the quality education for which The Pilot School has become known and to the work of crafting strategies to guide the school in achieving its long-range vision.
In the end, however, there can be little doubt that The Pilot School—Director, teachers, and Trustees—will rise to the challenges of the twenty-first century. Anchored as they
are in values that have seen them through nearly fifty years, they are supplied with the energy, integrity, courage, vision, compassion, strength, and zeal to continue to supply the tools of success to those very special children who come their way.
By Susan Chase