Middle School students set out for science in a canoe to collect samples from the lake to test water quality. A third- and fourth-grade economics unit transforms the field into a start-up village as students execute business plans to sell goods and services. PreK3 students study dancers like Degas and perch by the pond to paint Monet’s water lilies, learning about creative expression as they emulate master artists.
For 50 years, Corbett Prep has lived its founders’ dream to create an educational environment of unlimited possibilities that would cultivate the gifts and talents of every student.
Founders Marilyn Gatlin and Betty Anderson embraced a philosophy that happy students – respected as individuals and allowed to fulfill their needs to “play, investigate and be themselves” – were more open to learning than students who felt unhappy, tense and fearful at school.
Though much has changed since Gatlin and Anderson established their private school in 1968, their values stand strong today. Educational best practices and brain research show that the school philosophy remains relevant five decades later, a tribute to the forward thinking of Gatlin and Anderson.
“Research has proven Marilyn Gatlin and Betty Anderson to be great visionaries,” says Corbett Prep Headmaster Dr. Joyce Burick Swarzman.
The Independent Day School Vision
Gatlin and Anderson founded Independent Day School while studying gifted education under Dr. Dorothy Sisk at the University of South Florida. Gatlin and Anderson believed that all learners could benefit from gifted education and envisioned an innovative, student-centered school. Teachers would have freedom to use research-based instructional methods, and families would all feel a sense of belonging.
Independent Day School, or IDS, opened with 52 students in fifth through seventh grade in a Temple Terrace church. Within two years, the number of grade levels had doubled and the student body tripled. In 1970, the founders moved the school to its present-day home in Carrollwood, a wooded, lakeside campus that invites students to explore.
Students climbed trees to read and attended classes in four open classrooms in a geodesic dome. Art students dried tie-dyed shirts at a stone barbeque pit. In science, students caught tadpoles in the pond to study.
Today, IDS is known as Corbett Preparatory School of IDS, renamed in 2012 to honor school benefactors and community leaders Cornelia and Dick Corbett. The dome and other rustic, round classrooms gave way to colorful new buildings with windows placed at a child’s eye view. The Middle School students moved across Orange Grove into a two-story building with their own gym, athletic fields and lunchroom, allowing for more growth on the elementary side of the campus.
Educators draw from best practices and brain-based research to teach more than 500 students in PreK3 through eighth grade. Hundreds of teachers and college students visit annually for workshops, trainings and open houses. International connections bring students from Spain and China for short- and long-term visits.
“It is our belief that school should be interesting and even exciting,” the founders wrote in the school philosophy. “Our goal is to provide a relaxed but stimulating atmosphere wherein each child feels acceptance and encouragement in the achievement of success through the exercise of responsible choice.”
Learning remains active and engaging. The curriculum is built around experiential, inquiry-based and reflective learning that helps students uncover facts, relationships and truths for themselves.
Prekindergarten and kindergarten students, for example, test life as early American settlers by learning history in class before experiencing it for themselves, “sailing” to the New World, churning butter, making candles and harvesting crops. Middle School students, meanwhile, study ecology and apply their knowledge and problem-solving skills to manage an aquaponics system that grows plants for the school chef.
Hands-on lessons appeal to different styles of learning and multiple intelligences and improve retention and understanding. Physically experiencing lessons helps students better understand what they have learned and improve their performance in class, according to a 2015 study published in Psychological Science.
Coming Home to Corbett Prep
The way teachers made learning memorable and entertaining formed a lasting impression on Sammi Borosh, who was a student at IDS in the 1980s. Years later, when she was studying education, her professor asked what her ideal classroom would look like. She envisioned IDS.
Now she teaches first and second grade at her alma mater, working with her team to develop lessons that students will love that also rely on brain-based research and support the International Baccalaureate Programme.
A mother of three herself, Borosh now experiences IDS/Corbett Prep in an entirely new way – as a parent. She loves watching her children explore, create and grow in such a supportive environment: “This is how school should be.”