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Happy Valley School, Santa Cruz

This charming study shows what happens when you let young and old maniacs loose together in Santa Cruz County. The big bearded guy in the back row is the teacher, Dan McGuire, who is a very gentle and loving teacher: how else would we have that picture? Dan also appears on the “Trains” page, doing what he loves, the Happy Valley School Rail Faire.

Happy Valley School is the wonderful elementary school where Daphné and Alban started in September 1997, Tom in 1999, Charles in 2000 and Alexander in 2003. (Nicholas went directly to Branciforte Junior High School when he arrived in Santa Cruz in 1999).

The school’s sign on Branciforte Drive.

Happy Valley was founded in 1863, five years before the University of California was founded in Berkeley. Which is not to say that there are many similarities between the two. For example, the Berkeley campus is up to about 30,000 students, and Happy Valley has about 135 pupils. Or again, Happy Valley remains free for pupils, which cannot be said for Cal.

The luck we had in stumbling on this truly caring environment was the high point of our arrival in Santa Cruz. On the left is the school’s suitably modest gateway. It is a modest place, one of the smallest school districts in California.

That’s a firetruck hose spraying the children after the school’s “Olympics” in 2004!

The school had one particular asset that made it ideal for this family, a soccer field, complete with goals. Our boys spent many, many breaks and lunches playing soccer at Happy Valley School. Playing soccer at breaks was how I spent my childhood and youth. None of the boys found the same opportunity to play during breaks at any later school they attended.

All that fun playing at school bore its fruit, and not just for our boys. For example, four Happy Valley boys in the same year, including Charlie, were on the same county-wide competitive soccer team for the fall 2005 season.

Alban as a caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland in June 2001.

Happy Valley School is also the center of a vibrant community of parents and pupils. Every year there is a barbecue for the whole community, every year a fund-raising dinner, every year a range of activities for the children at the school. The annual “olympic games” were much appreciated by our boys, with each trying himself out against his peers, running, jumping, whatever.

There were plays put on by the community and starring the children. On the left is Alban as a very fetching caterpillar in the School’s production of Alice in Wonderland in June, 2001. There’s a shot of Tom in the same production here.

Our children have attended great local schools. Someone who ran across an earlier version of our website wrote us to say that she was horrified that we were using the names of the schools our children attended. So we reduced the number of explicit references to these names, but wonder if the possibility of wierdos and crazies should affect all of us in this way. Schools are already uniformly so very security conscious that their pupils must be influenced by them toward paranoia.

In October 2000 it was Charles’ turn to receive a diploma, for “gentle manners,” among other things. These certificates of appreciation dotted the walls of Alex’s and Charlie’s rooms at home.

We continue to refer openly to Happy Valley School because it is a public place and because no child whose photo appears on this web site still attends the school. It is also impossible to know which middle school and high school our children attended or attend based on their attendance at Happy Valley School, because there are three public and a couple of private schools which the children of Happy Valley residents could attend. Again, and with feeling, this kind of paranoid analysis is not at all good for the children!


The pictures in the table below are official class pictures. Alban, who did not speak a word of English when we arrived, spent four years there and blossomed. Daphné moved on to junior high after two years, and was getting straight As before she graduated. Again, she did not speak a word of English when we arrived. Charles started Kindergarten in 2000, and Alex in 2003, and happier kids at school would be hard to imagine.

We’d like to list each moment of encouragement and help that they all received, and identify each responsible care-giver one at a time. But they’re all exceptionally good with kids, and we have been exceptionally lucky. Thank you all.

Alban, front row right, September 1997

Daphné, front row left, September 1997

Alban, third row center, and Tom, front row right

September 2000

Charles, front row middle, September 2000

There’s a little fire station in Happy Valley, and the firemen and women have children at the school. This lovely shot shows what happens when the firemen come to play with the children. Our two youngest came home full of giggles and wet through. It’s not often you can get rained on by a fire truck!

Alexander, half standing on the left, starting kindergarten

September 2003

Finally, here are Alexander’s and Charles’ School photos from September 2004.

Happy Valley parents hung out together too: it was a great group. Here‘s
one occasion when they partied, and here’s another occasion when they worked for the school. Many parents put a whole lot of effort
into the school.