Pine Cobble School Celebrating 75 YearsBy Phyllis McGuire
Special to iBerkshires
01:29PM / Saturday, April 28, 2012
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Pine Cobble School will be "in full swing" on Saturday, May 5, for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the school's founding.
A pleasant day recently had children outside for play at the private school in Williamstown. The school offers programs and classes from preschool to Grade 9.
"The celebration will include swing dancing — a nod to 1937, the year of our founding. Thanks to generous donors, we have been able to hire the incredible George Gee Swing Orchestra for the occasion," Head of Pine Cobble School Susannah Wells said in an interview recently.
The George Gee Swing Orchestra has earned a reputation as the swinging-est, blowing-est, hepp-est classic band in New York City. The band has performed for 11 million viewers on "Live From Lincoln Center" on PBS television, and has devoted fans all over the world.
In addition to the orchestra, the celebration at Pine Cobble will feature festive tents, an auction, tours of the school, alumni soccer and field hockey games, slide shows, and signature cocktails will be served at the dance party, which is for adults only.
In its 75-year history, the school has relocated many times and more than eight educators have served as head of the private, non-profit organization.
"But we have always held fast to founders Doris and Edgar Flinton's vision of a school that would help children attain their best academically, socially, physically, and emotionally," said Wells. "We've also kept many of the original traditions, such as Mountain Day and winter sports ... We've added new traditions, too: a Language Day that celebrates our robust language program, Pi Day, a Science Day, a Classics Day, a Community Outreach Day and more."
According to information obtained at the Williamstown Historical Museum, Pine Cobble's first students attended classes in a rented house, with Edgar Flinton as headmaster. In six years, the school occupied private houses on North and Southworth streets, Lynde Lane, and in its brief boarding school phase, the Robert Cluett house on Ide Road.
The school was situated on Main Street in 1970 when a fire engulfed the building, causing irreparable damage. Until funds were raised and the school was rebuilt on the same site, classes were conducted in local churches.
In the 1990s, Pine Cobble, with the help of donors, purchased the campus of High Croft, a boarding school that originally had been the Cluett family estate and designed by the Olmsted Firm, and moved to its current home, 163 Gale Road.
(David and Joyce Milne, owners of High Croft, then donated the old Pine Cobble School to the town; it now houses the Milne Public Library and the history museum.)
Now, the school serves 122 children, toddler through ninth grade, from Vermont and New York as well as the Berkshires. Only once were grades expanded to high-school level and, in 1947, graduates were granted a high school diploma.
A private school, Pine Cobble does not receive public funds; donations and tuition are the school's main source of monetary support.
"We have a very active parents association, and parents volunteer to help maintain our beautiful campus and are always welcome in our classrooms,"said Wells.
Ali Benjamin, a mother of two Pine Cobble students and a freelance writer, does communication work for the school.
"I wanted to share what is happening at the school," Benjamin said as she sat in Cluett House, where the library and offices are located. "It's an amazing place for our children to learn — to be a kid — and to experience the process of being away from parents and learning to handle responsibilities. There are lively and engaging programs."
To foster integrity and responsibility, nine character pillars — compassion, respect, honesty, courage, self-control, patience, responsibility, cooperation, and gratitude — are integrated into the curriculum at every level. Throughout the school, posters listing the character pillars are displayed.
Of the time students spend outside the walls of the school, Wells said, "You can't have a healthy mind without having a healthy body. That's why every student, at every grade level spends at least 40 minutes a day outdoors at recess, and participates in sports and physical education classes. Faculty also send students outdoors for lessons of science, math, art and more."
Rachel Swope, who attended Grades 8 and 9 at Pine Cobble, said her humanities class would go outside to fulfill assignments.
"I love the campus," Rachel said. "My favorite spot is the fountain. I liked to read there."
She mentioned that Wells coaches field hockey and lacrosse, and that she would be seen on campus in shorts. "We respect her, but we could talk to her like a friend."
Bullying is not part of life at Pine Cobble, Rachel asserted, but after tragic incidents across the country triggered by bullying, the school held a mandatory assembly for all pupils.
"The head of the school talked about being nice," Rachel recalled. "I was asked to read aloud a children's book (basically about bullying). "It was a little nerve wracking as I always struggled with speaking in front of people. But after doing it so often at Pine Cobble (where it's required), it's second nature."
"Students are expected to step out of their comfort zone, so they learn to support one another," said Wells. "Students lunch together - in mixed-age groups, and have recess and assemblies together."
"Deliberately" small classes allow teachers to give students extra attention when needed. Student faculty ratio is 5 to 1, and faculty is accessible.
Alumnus Donald Campbell of Bennington, Vt., credits Pine Cobble's highly personal educational process for putting him on a "good track for the rest of his education."
"I came to Pine Cobble in seventh grade with a lot of education deficiencies. I didn't even know what the division sign meant," he said in a telephone interview. "I could have fallen through the cracks, but Pine Cobble got me tuned up quickly and shot me out like a cannon."
A math teacher was able to give him extra time, and straightened him out on division, and a French teacher spent time getting him up to speed to attend classes, Campbell recalled.
"The teachers were there for us then, and they seem to be every bit as much for the kids today," said Campbell, whose two daughters came to Pine Cobble in sixth and eighth grade a couple of years ago. His elder daughter is now president of her class at Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y.
"At Pine Cobble, they taught her not only about testing and time management, but even more importantly, they encouraged her to think for herself and be curious," Campbell said.
Now he is enthusiastically looking forward to Pine Cobble's 75th anniversary celebration. "I wouldn't miss it!" he said, adding that he hopes to rally his Pine Cobble friends to come along.
All the children of the founders will be at the celebration, as well as alumni from near and far.
"It will be a fantastic party. But it's just one night," said Wells. "The more important way we celebrate our 75-year history will be by continuing to honor the Flintons' founding vision, ensuring that we continue to provide an outstanding education in a safe and nurturing environment for the next 75 years."