Written by Hilary Mendoza ’71
The United States in the 1960s, a time when Palm Beach Private School was attempting to preserve its character and meet the challenges of the decade, was a time of fear of communism, experimentation in all aspects of rebellion, a realization of potential, technological advancement, and social disruption. The students of that decade remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the failed Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis, and the inspiring achievement of John Glenn’s historic Mercury flight.
During the tumultuous decade, the school changed the Board, the Head of School, the school name, and many of the transitory aspects of a resort school. The two-hour lunch was eliminated as were the lax rules on dress in the high school. Smoking was banned, and the smoking lounge for seniors was turned into the faculty lounge. In the middle and lower grades, a school uniform was implemented, consisting of today’s colorful jumpers for girls, and khakis, a blue blazer, and a school tie for the boys. More families made Palm Beach their main home which resulted in a growth in the school population and with this, increased pressures on parking, classroom space, faculty, extracurricular activities, and athletics. To help solve the easier problems, more buses were added, driven by Mr. Skinner, Mr. Ten Eyck, and Mr. Bayless, who made a habit of trying to get as close to the ficus hedges as he could to wake up the students sitting next to the window.
The faculty in the 1960s was excellent. A majority held advanced degrees and had the profound respect of the students who saw them in the classroom, on the field, on the stage, and at dances; however, it was always the most important aspect of the Board to add to this esteemed group. The space issue was probably the most immediate and costly issue, but one that the Board attacked with determination and trepidation. The town had set a cap on the student population at 300 which caused continued issues with neighbors and the town; however, there were three new classrooms and a balcony built over the kindergarten and nursery rooms, as well as the converting of the balcony in the Matthews Auditorium – built in the previous decade – into two classrooms.
At the end of the decade, the Board, along with the financial assistance of Raymond J. Wean, a revered Board chairman, planned to renovate the main building and add a 10,000 square foot, two-story structure, which would be an advanced audio-visual center and library called the Wean Learning Center. Once it was built, students enjoyed the view of Palm Beach from the comfortable chairs in the south enclave, studied with the help of faculty and tutors, perused the stacks for a gem of a book, or asked for help for research or a paper from the school librarians.
The changes in the physical plant were extensive, but the changes in the student body were profound with the addition of the children of the Cuban exiles, fleeing the repressive and brutal regime of Fidel Castro, only 90 miles from the Florida Keys. All of these challenges were tackled by a strong Board, a flexible faculty, and a welcoming student body.