In the spirit of Cooperation, our school’s theme for the year, Country School families are spearheading an effort to support Gifft Hill School in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, as it strives to help the local community recover from two devastating, back-to-back hurricanes. Gifft Hill is the Preschool-12th Grade school run by Laurie Bottiger, who served as Head of School at The Country School from 2011-2014. In the coming weeks, we will be selling specially designed tee-shirts featuring the logos of both schools, with all proceeds supporting Gifft Hill’s effort to serve school-aged children on the island.
Alumnus Robbie Cozean ’16, a sophomore at Xavier High School in Middletown, and his mother, Laura Miller, a Country School trustee, are the masterminds behind the tee-shirt effort. “Selling these shirts will allow our school community to donate needed funds for rebuilding, but will also serve as a reminder that we are forever tied to others,” Dr. Miller said. “Dr. Bottiger implemented many educational advances which have become part of the fabric of our community, and likewise, we hope our donation will continue to re-thread her community.”
A Preschool-Grade 12 independent day school, Gifft Hill is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Initially scheduled to welcome 157 students back to school on September 6, Mother Nature caused a change in plans when first Irma (Category 5) and then Maria (Category 4) slammed into the island, destroying businesses, homes, and schools; leaving the island without power or running water; and decimating the tourism-based economy.
Based on weather reports before the storms, many Gifft Hill families made the decision to leave the island before Irma hit. Among those who stayed, many found themselves without a roof over their heads or access to clean water and basic goods and services. Gifft Hill was severely damaged, but after intensive cleanup and rebuilding efforts, parts of campus are now functional, and on September 25, Gifft Hill was able to welcome the 41 students who are still on island back to school.
What is more inspiring, as the only functioning school on St. John at this stage, the Gifft Hill Board of Trustees made the remarkable decision to invite the island’s other children to join them at Gifft Hill, waiving tuition and opening classes and extracurricular opportunities to all children who need an educational home. As of last week, 135 students were attending Gifft Hill; of that number, more than 90 are newly enrolled.
In a cell phone conversation, Dr. Bottiger told us spirits on the island – and at school – are as good as can be expected, even though there is still no electricity and running water and much of the population cannot live in their own homes. “When you watch what’s happening in the classrooms and you look at the classrooms, you can’t tell the hurricanes went by,” she said. “My catch phrase has been, ‘There’s a fine line between grace, gratitude, grit, and grief,’and we’re all swinging back and forth between those continuums. We fill each other’s cups up.”
Dr. Miller said Robbie learned early on during his Country School days about the importance of “filling each other’s cups up” and giving back. Throughout his years at TCS, he participated in efforts to support communities and individuals in need, from the well project with Call to Care Uganda to the annual food drives to support local food banks. He also learned about the importance of supporting education. When he graduated from The Country School, he was asked to make a donation representing his graduation year, and so he happily gave $20.16 to his school.
As he and his mother read about the devastation on St. John – and specifically at Gifft Hill – Robbie realized the rebuilding effort would require a lot more than his small donation. He and his mother came up with the tee-shirt idea, designing a Gifft Hill/Country School shirt that highlights ongoing connections and cooperation between the two schools.
A talented competitive runner who was named the Hartford Courant’s cross country runner of the year last year and a Junior Olympics All America for three years running, Robbie thought a tee-shirt bearing the Gifft Hill and Country School logos would be a perfect vehicle for supporting the recovery effort. Robbie and his mother see a running connection in the effort to support Gifft Hill and the St. John community. “One thing runners like Robbie will say is that all you see at a race is the finish; you don't see the training runs in the wind and the rain,” Dr. Miller said. “Having just run the Chicago Marathon, Dr. Bottiger would no doubt agree. This is just a training run for Gifft Hill School; they train every day so the race of education for all may be won. Let's help them help these children and their families – 100 percent of all proceeds will go directly to their school from ours. A woven tapestry, hours training in all kinds of weather, and the chance to continue to teach philanthropy, TCS and Gifft Hill School.”
Robbie will visit campus on Friday morning to talk about the shirts, Gifft Hill, and why he thought it was important to support the hurricane recovery effort on St. John. The shirts will be available for purchase after school and during upcoming school events. Adult shirts are long-sleeved and available in three sizes (S, M, L) for $20; youth shirts are short-sleeved and available in four sizes (S, M, L, XL) for $15. All proceeds will go directly to Gifft Hill.
Quantities are limited and will be available on first-come, first-served basis. If you wish to reserve a shirt/shirts or have questions, please email email@example.com. Learn more about Gifft Hill at https://www.giffthillschool.org/index.htm. For an article about the school’s island recovery effort go to https://www.whattodo-vi.com/private-school-needs-help-cover-free-hurricane-tuitions.
Below are some photos from Gifft Hill's Facebook page showing damage from and recovery efforts after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Volunteers working to clean up the playground.
The restored playground, with happy students at play.
For more photos, visit Gifft Hill on Facebook.