The school was first founded on Siesta Key in 1924.
Imagine a school where marine studies was part of the curriculum, and recreation time was spent swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
That was Siesta Key’s Out-of-Door Academy 95 years ago. At least, that’s what school historian Elizabeth Mahler told Out-of-Door’s lower campus Jan. 27, the 95th day of the school year.
In 1924, the school’s founders, former Red Cross nurses Fanneal Harrison and Catherine Gavin, established a vision for the school based on the idea that fresh air and studying the arts would lead to a higher level of academics.
The first crop of students to test the curriculum of the second oldest private school in Florida was composed of 10 boarding school students who called the more than 20-acre campus home.
In 1977, after the school had changed ownership, and portions of the campus were sold, a group of 120 families bonded together to purchase the property and turn it into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Now, ODA serves more than 740 students on two campuses and has implemented new strategies to help students’ success, but it still keeps its eye on the founders mission, Head of School David Mahler said.
“Particularly in Florida, 95 years is an amazing legacy on the Gulf Coast,” David Mahler said. “The fact that many of the original buildings are still part of our Siesta Key campus, the students interact with them and are able to trace the history all the way back to the origins of our school — it’s a pretty unique opportunity for us.”
Students celebrated the day with a history assembly led by Elizabeth Mahler, a sugar cookie snack and a tour through the campus’s cabin from the original school, as well as by ringing the campus bell 95 times.
Third grade student Trudo Letschert said he enjoyed celebrating the history because his family has attended the school for years. His father and uncle both went to the school, and now he, his brother and cousins attend the lower campus.
“I really have a family relationship with the school,” Letschert said. “All my family has gone here, and they’ve learned so much, and I plan on going here until I graduate because I’m learning so much.”
Elizabeth Mahler said learning is something students continue both with new material and also by looking at the school’s past.
“I think it’s really important for people to know that they’re part of something bigger, that they’re part of an institution that has educated 95 years worth of students,” she said.
That legacy continues with students like fifth grader Madeleine Conger, who also plans to graduate from the school.
“Everyone is so nice here, and it has a really good education,” Conger said. “And the teachers are really great at explaining things. They make it interactive, and it’s not boring. To know that I’ll be here for the 100th year is pretty cool.”