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Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

SCOTT PURKS   |   Special to the Times Corbett Prep physical education teacher Kathy Foley, front left, walks around the campus with several long-time teachers\uFEFF, including middle school science teacher Gery Morey, front right.\uFEFF
SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times Corbett Prep physical education teacher Kathy Foley, front left, walks around the campus with several long-time teachers\uFEFF, including middle school science teacher Gery Morey, front right.\uFEFF
Published Aug. 15, 2018

TAMPA — Sammi Borosh sat Tuesday afternoon in one of those tiny chairs for kindergartners and looked across the table at four of her former teachers — and her eyes misted.

Borosh said she loved those four ladies and she loved the school where they taught, and the teachers, in turn, got a little misty.

Then Borosh told a story.

It began 32 years ago when Borosh was four. Her family had just moved from out of state to Tampa and they were expecting Sammi to begin kindergarten. But when they tried Carrollwood Elementary School, Sammi, under Florida rules, was deemed too young.

Sammi cried and cried.

The family headed north on Orange Grove Drive when suddenly, literally within a half mile, there appeared Corbett Preparatory School.

Sammi's mom, Mary, swerved right.

Pam Ripple, sitting a few feet from Sammi Tuesday afternoon, leaned down to little Sammi 32 years ago in the Corbett Prep front office.

"Everything is going to be all right," Ripple said to little Sammi. "Everything is going to work out."

Never was a statement more understated.

Sammi spent the next nine years at Corbett Prep (through eighth grade). Then, after attending Tampa Prep for high school and Appalachian State for college, she came back to Corbett Prep, where she has spent the last 15 years as a first and second grade teacher.

"I probably won't ever leave," Sammi said. "I don't think I could."

The four ladies sitting next to her — Ripple (68), Debi Brockmeyer (66), Kathy Folen (68) and Gery Morey (73) — nodded and almost applauded because for goodness sakes, they understand: Ripple, the school's associate headmaster, has been at Corbett 40 years; Brockmeyer has taught first and second grade there for 36 years; Folen has taught physical education there 38 years; and Morey, a science teacher, has been with Corbett 49 years.

Forty nine!

A remarkable number that means Morey has been with the school all but one of its years. Corbett celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and it kicks off the commemoration on Saturday with hundreds of alumni joining current and former staff for a 50th birthday party.

They will take a moment to revel in the school's warm philosophy that happy students learn better than unhappy ones and that compassion, respect and discipline are great places to start teaching.

They will recall history: The year 1968 when Marilyn Gatlin and Betty Anderson set their philosophy in motion with the opening of Independent Day School with 52 students in Temple Terrace. It was known for its big, open-classroom dome. The kids had lunch and classes outside, and a parent even built a giant treehouse where entire classes would go and read.

By 1970, the student body tripled and the founders moved the school to its present-day home in Carrollwood, a cool little piece of property on a lake inviting kids to learn and explore, and, in the case of the aforementioned women, to fall in love with their work, their co-workers and their lives.

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"We are a family and a community that takes care of each other," Folen said.

"It's always been that way," Morey said.

Independent Day was renamed in 2012 to honor school benefactors and community leaders Dick and Cornelia Corbett and their family. Cornelia Corbett first arrived at IDS as a parent and volunteer around 1980 and soon joined the Board of Trustees. For a decade, she served as board president and remains on the board as a member today.

A few minutes after her meeting with the teachers she has known basically her entire life, Borosh, 36, walked to her classroom to put the final touches on preparations for the first day of school, 2018.

She sat down in another one of those little chairs at one of those little tables for little kids, the same sized chairs she sat in 32 years ago — in the same rooms.

The same rooms her children, third-grader Lucas and first-grader Miles, are sitting in at Corbett Prep. Oh yeah, her other child, two-year-old Stella, will begin the first day of school in Corbett's on campus day-care facility.

Happy?

"That's why we all come here," Borosh said. "We love Corbett."

Contact Scott Purks at hillsnews@tampabay.com.