I was greeted by nine elementary school children in bright red
caps the moment I stepped through the door at Antonio Del Buono
Elementary School Wednesday night.
I was greeted by nine elementary school children in bright red caps the moment I stepped through the door at Antonio Del Buono Elementary School Wednesday night. One by one, they introduced themselves and shook my hand, naming the office they hold in the student body leadership. They made each one of us attending the 10th anniversary celebration of the school feel like a celebrity. A small but dapper gentleman in suit and tie stepped up to introduce himself as President Brandon Kim and escorted me to the large auditorium where the event was being held.
The anniversary was attended by many past alumni as well as various local dignitaries, including Mayor Al Pinheiro, Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Deborah Flores, the school’s first secretary Jean Skillman, and school district trustees Rhoda Bress and Tom Bundros.
The school’s first principal, Pat Midtgaard, received a standing ovation as she addressed the crowd of several hundred. Credited with getting the school off the ground, she took on a monumental task that began more than 10 years ago.
Recalling the ground breaking, she said, “Aug. 3, 1999, was the exact day we began the school. It started out as a vacant field.”
She coordinated everything from the building design to recruiting the student population, developing an official code of conduct and ordering every pencil and stick of furniture.
The school began with just five teachers and 100 students in four portables as a satellite at the Las Animas Elementary School campus, and the students took field trips to see the site where the new school was being built.
“There’s some kind of energy, something about a new school that motivates teachers and parents and creates an enthusiasm in everyone involved. It was a great adventure,” Midtgaard said.
Today the campus has grown into a 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that includes 34 classrooms, a computer lab, library and multi-purpose room. The school serves more than 700 students each year.
Midtgaard said a lot of thought went into making the campus a beautiful place for fostering creativity in an aesthetically pleasing environment. The design was intended to help create a sense of community with lots of work space, warmly carpeted interior hallways and an easy flow from one activity to the next.
Janet Londgren appreciates this as a kindergarten teacher who works to soothe and calm the fears of young students as they are entering school for the first time. Londgren showed me a wall of her students’ self-portraits.
“The teachers have been busy putting student art on display,” she said. “I am so proud of our school’s commitment to the arts.”
The halls of the school were lined with hundreds of art projects for Wednesday’s celebration. There were musical instruments made using tissue paper and colorful pieces of paper cut into elaborate abstract designs in the style of Spanish surrealist artist Joan Miró. I enjoyed Vincent Van Gogh-inspired swirls of stars in the sky in chalk and crayon, pointillism paintings and blue and green seascapes created by Mrs. Hardy’s class.
Mrs. Moon’s class featured “Sunsets over the Hills” paintings in vibrant bursts of orange and yellow and purple.
“It’s our first art show this big,” Principal Velia Codiga told the enthusiastic crowd. “We are very proud of it.”
The school is named for Antonio Del Buono, who was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1900. He left school at age 10 when he became the sole supporter for his family after his father, a sculptor, died. Service station attendant, ranch hand and laborer by day and student by night, he graduated from high school at 41.
A personal friend of author John Steinbeck, he worked as an activist for more than 40 years, fighting for the rights of fish cannery and agricultural workers. Known as the “Barrio Professor,” he lectured at colleges and conferences both locally and nationally. Fluent in three languages, he also provided legal advice to those who couldn’t afford it through his work with the California Rural Legal Assistance organization.
Gilroy native Velia Codiga was the literacy facilitator at Antonio Del Buono Elementary School for three years before being promoted to principal in 2006. Her 7-year-old son studies violin under Lori Franke, who leads the Suzuki Violin Program at the school.
“This is the 10th celebration of the Violin Program as well,” Franke said. “This is the largest it’s ever been.”
Eighty-five current students, joined by a small group of alumni students, performed for a packed auditorium Wednesday night.
Since the Violin Program exists on school funding, programs like Franke’s depend on fundraisers and donations.
“I want the community to know that the Violin Program doesn’t end with graduation from fifth grade, but can continue throughout a lifetime,” Franke said. “My next project is to get a string program into the middle schools. That is harder with all the budget cuts, but I have students this year in all Gilroy middle schools playing their violins in the school band. That says something.”
Midtgaard captured the spirit of the night for school staff, past and present, when she said, “It means so much to watch a child grow up in the community and know you had a part in it.”