Pine Island Elementary School holds a very special meaning to a handful of teachers who spent their childhood attending the school as students once upon a time.
Summer Dooley joined the Pine Island Elementary School staff as a kindergarten teacher this year after teaching for three years in Orlando. After spending eight years in Orlando attending the University of Central Florida and working, she decided it was time to move back to Pine Island and be close to family.
"I love children," she said of why she decided to become a teacher. "I have always wanted to be a teacher."
Kindergarten teacher Summer Dooley, second grade teacher Monica Renz and music teacher Gwendelyn Fristensky.
Pine Island Elementary School holds a special meaning to Dooley because she attended kindergarten through 5th grade there.
"It's nice to come back and teach in my community," she said, especially since many of the island organizations provided her with scholarships to go to college. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I love teaching, it is definitely a passion."
Her family's history runs in her family. Dooley's father was among the first class to attend Pine Island Elementary School in 1961 and her mother Rhonda, who currently works there, has been a member of the staff for 25 years.
Dooley said her mom, who is an ESOL paraprofessional, is her reading assistant for an hour in the classroom, which she enjoys.
"She is really knowledgeable," Dooley said of her mother, adding that she has helped her transition into her first year of teaching kindergarten.
Dooley was also the first recipient of the Bobby Holloway Positive Attitude Award when she was a 5th grade student at Pine Island Elementary School. She said she received a $50 savings bond and a plaque, which is still the award to this day.
"We were very close friends," Dooley said of her and Bobby. "It was a special way to be recognized, especially growing up with him and being so close."
She hopes to present the winner with the award this year.
Now a teacher, Dooley recalls many memories of her childhood at Pine Island Elementary School.
"It looked a lot bigger in elementary school," she said, laughing about the campus.
The one thing that stuck out then and now, is the feel she has when she steps onto the campus.
"It has the same feel," Dooley said. "It still has that same home feel."
That community feel came back full force during her first year teaching as she had some of her brother's friend's children in her class.
A memory that sticks out the most was when she was a kindergarten student at Pine Island Elementary School. She said she remembers Ms. Madelyn and everything she learned in her class, which was mostly a lot of social skills.
"It is the foundation where you learn to work with others," Dooley said, which is a good perspective for her now as a teacher.
She said she has thoroughly enjoyed teaching a new grade level this year because the kindergarten students are always so excited.
"They are so excited about everything," Dooley said of the students. "It makes me excited and appreciate the small things."
Gwendelyn Fristensky also has very fond memories of her childhood at the school. After moving to the area from Alaska when she was 6, she attended Pine Island Elementary School in 1st through 5th grades and then went onto Pine Island Middle School from 6th through 8th grades.
Pine Island Middle School first opened its doors in 1981 and soon closed the doors shortly after Fristensky graduated 8th grade.
As she reminisced about her grade school and middle school days, a smile spread across her face. She said she stumbles upon many memories and sounds as she cruises down the hallways from time to time.
Fristensky said the middle school was comprised of portables, some of which had locker rooms with showers for PE.
A memory that has stuck with her over the years is being a deejay for the middle school dance as a 7th grade student. Fristensky said she had a garage band at the time.
Band became a part of her life in 6th grade, which continued her interest throughout the years, thanks to the band teacher.
She became the music teacher at Pine Island Elementary School in 2006. When she read about the opening, Chuck Vilardi, who she went to high school with, was the principal at the time.
Fristensky said she remembers finding out how much money the Matlacha Mariners had set aside for the music program, which blew her away, when she first started.
"The Mariners are huge supporters of the music program," she said.
Fristensky now has 1st-5th grade students for 40-45 minutes a day and kindergarten students for 35 minutes a day for music class. She said she puts on at least 10 different performances in the school and the community every year.
Now as a teacher, Fristensky said she enjoys the combination of the community involvement and the memories she will have forever of attending school on Pine Island.
"The culture has always been exceptional," she said.
Although Fristensky loves Pine Island Elementary School, she is currently looking to further her career with her masters degree in educational leadership.
Monica Renz also shares similar memories due to her attending Pine Island Middle School as a sixth grade student after she moved to the island from Pittsburgh.
"It was an easy school to transition to because it was a small school," Renz said.
A memory that remains with her today is the lifelong relationships she made during the year she attended Pine Island Middle School. Renz said she is still friends with many of the people she first met when arriving at school.
"There was a sense of community," she said. "Everyone knew everyone and were accepting of new people."
Twelve years ago she became a teacher at Pine Island Elementary School, which was her first teaching job. Renz is now a second grade teacher.
"I always wanted to be a teacher," Renz said, adding that her second grade teacher began the influence of choosing that career path.
Due to the community feel many teachers experience while being a member of the staff at Pine Island Elementary School, it's a rarity that positions become available because they remain at the school until they retire or pass away.
"I lucked into this job," Renz said, adding that she was interning at the school when a position became available for a special education teacher.
"It's a privilege to teach her," she said. "It's the best kept secret. The sense of support from the community is unbelievable."
One of the reasons she enjoys working at the school is because she works with children of the island.
"You know the kids and families," Renz said, adding that some of the students she was in the hospital to witness their birth.
Although she loves Pine Island Elementary School, she is looking to further her career with her masters degree in educational leadership. Renz hopes to find an assistant principal position within Lee County.