East Bay High School has been educating kids, building traditions, and creating memories for students and staff for 60 years. As the community honors the long-standing history of the high school with a Jubilee celebration Thursday, January 25, many are reflecting on what’s changed over six decades and what remains the same.
“Just as they prepared students for life back in 1957, we’re preparing students for life in the 21st Century,” said Principal Maria Gsell.
“Sixty years – that’s a massive achievement. How many schools nowadays can say they’ve been around for 60 years,” said Candace Holliday, a class of 1984 East Bay High School graduate who now works in Student Nutrition Services at the school.
The school has become a part of many people – long after graduation. About a dozen current East Bay High School teachers and staff are former students.
“I started here as a freshman in the late ‘80’s, went to the University of Florida and came right back here. I’ve been teaching here ever since. It’s really all that I know, other than my internship, I love it. I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” said class of 1992 East Bay High School graduate, Kim Willis. She teaches agriculture education and veterinary assisting at East Bay.
“It’s crazy to think I graduated from here 26 years ago, and now I’m teaching here is like amazing to me,” said Rebecca Singer, East Bay High School cosmetology teacher and class of 1992 graduate.
Attending East Bay has also become a family tradition. Some students appreciate sharing the experience with past generations.
“My grandfather went to this school. He was the first graduating class, and now I’m the 60th, so it’s really exciting,” said East Bay High School senior Aulbrey Weston. “The legacy is obviously good to have, because me and my grandfather talk about it, and how he used to walk these halls, and now I get the chance and the privilege to walk these halls every day.”
“It’s pretty cool to see how my dad went here, see how everything has changed, all of the trophies we’ve won,” said freshman Chase Ratliff.
During the late 1950’s, the district consolidated many of its small, rural schools into larger, newer schools. East Bay High School opened in 1957. Wimauma High School was converted to an elementary school, and the students were transferred to East Bay. It was the only high school in Hillsborough County south of Brandon. It originally opened next door to where the school now stands and continues to expand.
“Eisenhower was the original high school, and that’s why our football field is more connected to the Eisenhower campus than to our own campus. In 1973, they completed this building. Then, this year we opened a brand new wing to this building and added 20 new classrooms,” said Gsell.
“East Bay High School has been a foundation for watching South Hillsborough County grow,” said Edward Livesay, East Bay High School history teacher and class of 2010 graduate.
Most of the subdivisions that now surround the school didn’t exist in the earlier decades. Former students recall sprawling agricultural fields as the landscape, and the zoning area for East Bay spanned for miles.
“I used to take kids home from basketball practice and would have to go all the way down to south county, almost to the edge of Hillsborough County. And then I had a friend who lived way up almost to Brandon to Bloomingdale,” recalled East Bay class of 1987 graduate and math teacher Tim Mays.
“East of Lithia at that point in time, I do believe, from there to all the way west up to the Bay, every student came here – every student in the whole area,” said Holliday.
Today, while building is booming in south county, the high school still has a small-town feel for many alumni.
“I grew up in this neighborhood, and to see it be a place that I still love so much – this is my home away from home,” said Singer. “The fact that we have this gem that’s not only just been here for 60 years, but the fact that we still have ongoing programs that support the community and programs that have been here for many, many years. Cosmetology has been here for 50 years.”
“It always just felt like home and family. Everyone is a friend. Everyone is there to help each other out – from the students to the teacher to the staff,” said Willis.
Former students have seen some changes, including the addition of the new math wing this year. They’re excited to share the progress with the community at the Jubilee. “We used to call the old ‘Dark Hall’ down towards the gym, it used to be real dark and cement. It’s been improved. Of course this new building and new wing, people will be interested to see,” said Mays.
“Something that’s different that changed throughout our 60 years here is our technology and all of the other advances we added to our classrooms to make the learning experience for our kids just better,” said Livesay.
Principal Gsell sees the celebration as a chance to reflect on what’s made the school what it is today and where it’s headed.
“I think it’s very important to celebrate our history and the traditions that we’ve established and continue to establish to honor the past. We’re blending the past, with the present and with the future,” said Gsell.
Former students believe their high school experience at East Bay, and the teachers they had along the way have made them who they are today.
“I love my students. I love the fact that I can take a trade that I learned not only from here, but from a teacher that I loved, and I emulate a lot of stuff that she taught me, and how she made me feel,” said Singer.
“We’ve learned the curriculum and taken the tests, but what you take away from the school is what you learn from the people who are there. You take away some of them inside of you,” said Holliday.
“East Bay High School has a proud history of 60 years of creating the leaders of tomorrow. Every year we get better. After 60 years, you better believer, we’re one of the best in the county,” Livesay said.
Past, present and future East Bay Indians, along with the entire community are invited to the Jubilee on Thursday, January 25, at 6:30 pm. There will be displays, light refreshments and a program with entertainment in the auditorium.
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